Outside your walls Featured

11:36am EDT February 24, 2005
Often one of the greatest challenges business owners have with the online component of their daily operations is the limitation created by office location. Internet access availability, service levels and cost can be a major drain on an Internet-enabled business.

One way to level the playing field is to take a look at data center co-location.

On a high level, Internet co-location is described as a company that places its application equipment (server, routers, firewalls, VPNs) in a facility hosted by a specialized Internet provider, designed for supporting servers and networking equipment. These facilities have high volume and redundant Internet connectivity, security (physical and network-based), uninterruptible power and climate control.

These are often features and services that are too large an investment for a small to medium-sized business, but without them, these Internet-enabled businesses are highly susceptible to service interruptions.

There is little or no need for most business to have their data and application servers located physically in the same place as their employees. In fact, this old-fashioned notion could be holding your company back. With the advent of Application Service Provider models, thin clients, collaborative networking and telecommuting, co-location can change the boundaries of your business.

In the past, companies have been saddled with trying to get higher Internet speeds as well as security to their in-house data centers. This is often called the "last mile" of Internet technology and is usually the most expensive. Imagine pushing your data center a few hops closer to the Internet and letting your ISP be responsible for keeping the access, power and environment up and running.

You may find that not only is it a safer place for your technology investment, but that now all you may need for your office's Internet connection is a low-cost DSL Internet connection. This could bring serious savings over a T-1 connection.

But do these facilities exist as an affordable alternative for small to medium-sized businesses?

They might be right under your nose. Co-location facilities are cropping up in many areas and configurations. With a huge surplus in downtown space previously used for manufacturing or storage, Internet providers are finding it fertile ground to segment off 1,000 feet or so with security cages, data lines and conditioned power, and go into the data hotel business.

With the ability to rent by the square foot or by U (a universal data rack measurement), businesses can get their Web, mail, exchange, application or any other kind of server on a direct connection to the Internet --all in a facility far more resilient than their own corporate offices.

Deciding where to house your equipment outside your offices is just like picking a new office. Is the building well-maintained and secure? Are the utilities up-to-date? Are there other tenants?

These are all characteristics that are as unique as your business. Large, brand-name facilities are very structured as to the services that are offered and may even have size and/or space requirements. Smaller facilities may be more willing to work with your specialized needs and be flexible on pricing. Investigate your co-location options and see if you can take a step back from your in-house data constraints.

Alex Desberg manages communications for Ohio.net Internet Providers, a statewide provider of Internet services with a product line that ranges from national dial-up with accelerators and DSL to specialized access needs including server co-location. Visit www.ohio.net for information on offerings related to your Internet needs. Reach Desberg at adesberg@ohio.net.