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Entries in Co-Location Tier Power Cooling (2)


An Open Letter to Co-Lo Data Center Operators

Regular readers know I am a fan of using co-location providers for small and mid-size businesses.  Larger businesses have the mass and scale to run their own data centers.

We are seeing a dramatic uptick in the number of organizations seeking co-location.  Some are moving because of external factors (the CIO with an elevator going through the data center opted to go co-lo, as did a CIO where flooding damaged the data center building.)  Others are experiencing growth, and finding the costs to expand in place prohibitive.

Whatever the reason, these organizations often look to us to provide advice and counsel.

As a part of the co-location decision, we believe in an RFP process.

Analyzing hundreds of responses leads us to make a few observations:

  • Always be honest – we had a respondent claim to be a Tier 4 (think NYSE and the government) data center operator.  Tier 4 has redundant everything….real belt and suspenders.  For this respondent, it would be a neat trick as they only had one generator.

Were they intentionally misleading, or did they not understand? 

  • Check your math – As independent consultants, we analyze the financial aspects of proposals using proprietary models we’ve built and refined.  As we load vendor’s submittals to our spreadsheet, we often find errors in submissions (most often, the words and the numbers do not align.)

  • Respect the process – it seems every one of our proposal efforts exposes a vendor who is unwilling to follow the process.  This normally takes the form of a vendor reaching around the consultant (us) and trying to influence directly or indirectly.  Perhaps this is the equivalent of a Hail Mary football pass, a final act of desperation…since in all cases the vendor going around the consultant did not prevail in the end on the strength of their response.  We know vendors will do this, and so we prepare our clients for the defense.

We work very hard for the client and the respondents to play fairly.

We recommend our clients visit co-location providers and “kick the tires” before making a final decision.

This is where gaps in the expectation versus delivery are often exposed, yielding more observations.  I like getting to the co-lo site an hour before the formal tour, and take a walk around the building.  I take my trusty BlackBerry with me, and take pictures of things I see.  In fairness, I am not including pictures in this blog post intentionally as I don’t want any vendor feeling bad, or any vendor using this to market against another vendor.  That said, what I find is vendor seem so driven to please they overstate the facts:

  • “You wouldn’t be in our parking lot for more than 5 minutes without someone challenging you.”  Well, I sure took a lot of pictures in the 15 minutes I was out there.
  • “The gas main at the front door has been deemed ‘Not A Risk.’”  I don’t know…it seems a gas main should be hidden/protected from automobiles.
  • “We check our logs closely.”  OK, good.  (And Bill Gates just signed in.)
  • “We would never let a constable take anything, even if they had appropriate court papers”  The constable sitting in the room did not agree.
  • “You wouldn’t get close enough to see the equipment.  You would be stopped in 3 seconds.”  Well, I have pictures of the serial number right off the device, with my little non-telephoto equipped BlackBerry.
  •  “That door to the UPS Switchgear area is never opened.”  We have a picture of it propped open.  There was someone standing there when it was open.  Really?

To be clear, other than forging Bill Gate’s name we don’t do anything illegal.  We’re not scaling fences, or using ladders.  Just a nice stroll around the building.

One client recently insisted in participating by taking a water bottle with them on tours.  While only one vendor didn’t challenge the bottle, that one vendor lost a large amount of credibility.

I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a facility neat, tidy and tour ready.  Seeing a cage in a co-location facility used as a janitor’s closet leaves me scratching my head.  Having all the covers off HVAC devices with nobody working on them makes one wonder about the overall maintenance plan.

If a client asks to see the mechanicals, show them.  We recently had one vendor that hesitated, and this left a sour taste in the client’s mouth.  The vendor did eventually show the space…

Power is an important element of cost.  Vendors putting all their profit in the power creates a disparity with others.

One or two vendors like to trash their competitors.  We’re not fans of that approach.  Speak to your own merits.

One last thing we tell our clients is to check references, and to Google the vendor.  Ask if there have been business impacting outages, and how they are to work with.  If a vendor has had a data center floor impacting issue, hopefully they’ve already mentioned it, and how they incident management process quickly addressed, and steps taken to address.  This is electro mechanical gear, and things CAN happen.  Rarely!


When to Explore Data Center Co-Location

Back when computers were new, they were often located just off the main lobby, in a windowed area.  Company management looked upon these first systems as trophies, and the windowed area was akin to the trophy case.

Fast forward a few decades and data centers are more bunker-like than trophy cases.

So we were surprised when a financial services client asked about building a data center in their new corporate headquarters.  Their data center needs are modest, under 2500 square feet.

We asked why they were not considering co-location (co-lo).  In a co-lo, all the bricks and mortar infrastructure is managed by the service provider, typically with a high degree of redundancy “built in.”

There’s even an ANSI standard (ANSI/TIA-942) for data centers.  Here’s a grossly simplified view:

Tier Level


Estimated Annual Downtime due to Site

Site Availability

Tier 1: Basic

  • Non-redundant power and cooling components1

28.8 hours


Tier 2: Some redundant components

  • Redundant power and cooling components

22 hours


Tier 3: Concurrently maintainable

  • All IT equipment must be dual-powered and fully compatible with the topology of the data center architecture

1.6 hours


Tier 4: Fault tolerant

  • Multiple active power and network distribution paths
  • All cooling equipment is independently dual powered
  • Power, cooling, and networking are all fault tolerant

.4 hours


1 “Components” refer to the mechanical and electrical devices necessary for data center operation.  This includes: Power Distribution Units (PDU), Air Conditioning Chillers and Distribution (CRAC) units, Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), Power Switching, Generators, Environmental Monitoring, and Fire Suppression.

Most co-los are greater than a Tier 2, while cost considerations often drive smaller data centers to a sub Tier 2 redundancy.

When looking at retrofitting an existing office building compared to co-lo, some of the factors for consideration include:


Office Building


Power Feed

Often Single

Generally dual

UPS & Battery

Need to be installed



Needs to be installed; cannot use life-safety generator



Use building cooling systems (ensure 24x7 operation)


Communication paths

Often single

Generally dual +

Fire detection


Often aspirating or laser


Often on-site during normal hours.

24x7 on-site


The very first thing a business should consider are their business resiliency requirements.  Some businesses have manual processes allowing them to go without computer processing for an extended period.  Others, as often found in financial services and health care, require higher availability.

When faced with a build or buy decision, the economics of the increased resiliency and power/cooling demands afforded by a co-location provider should be considered in light of the business requirements.