Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How Do You Decide On A Colocation (Bandwidth) Provider?

You run a high volume bandwidth eating application or website .... and are in need of colocation support and services.

What do you do .... and what should you look for?

Raw bandwidth quality and price is only one of many factors you should consider. Depending on the geographic distribution of your users you may want to look for an independent content distribution network (Akamai) or a bandwidth provider that offers its own content distribution services. This can be important if your users are highly distributed geographically.

Some specific things to consider:

1) Carrier neutral colocation is the way to go for most Internet-centric applications. Colocating in a carrier-owned facility can make sense if much of your traffic will be to a private WAN provided by that carrier. Otherwise being in a carrier-owned data center makes you a captive customer and raises the cost/ effort for diverse, multi-provider bandwidth.

2) Finding the right carrier-neutral facility - make sure the facility you are looking at has a good number of carriers in it and that they are ready to provision new customers via a low-cost Ethernet hand-off. I've seen many facilities that listed a vast number of carriers available only to discover that most of those carriers only had raw fiber built into the facility - actually turning up the first customer required a significant hardware investment which frequently gets passed on to the first customer in the form of high costs.

3) Blended vs. dedicated ports - with the exception of very sophisticated blended products at facilities like Equinix I'm not a fan of the blended approach except for smaller operations that do not plan to grow above 100Mbps or so and do not plan to have multiple colos. Blended is a great option to get started quickly but you will likely find that you want the control and price advantages of connecting to specific carriers. The exception to this is resale services over a common Ethernet facility that some carrier-neutral facilities provide. For example Equinix Direct allows customers to purchase bandwidth from specific providers for short-term commitment periods. This is a great option and I'm sure many non-Equinix facilities offer something similar.

4) Burstable vs. fixed rate services - most services are burstable and measured on some sort of aggregated utilization. Most customers prefer this because their traffic patterns are bursty. Overage charges can be a major issue so make sure you have a plan for how you will address those if you find you are bursting over your expected traffic. What does the next tier of pricing look like and do you have to renew/ extend your contract commitment to move to it?

5) Make sure the SLA is meaningful. Negotiate on the SLA if it isn't. Many carriers provide non-meaningful latency guarantees. A common example is latency/ packet loss to the first-hop provider edge router. This isn't meaningful - you want to know how well your traffic will get across their network. Look for SLAs that define performance between ISP border routers. Look at what the provider excludes from coverage. For instance, it is common practice for carriers to exclude issues caused by the local exchange carrier or other parties (fiber providers). This tends to defeat the purpose of the SLA. This is generally negotiable with CLECs or with tier 1 providers you will find there is a premium SLA available.

6) Monitor what you are getting - an apalling number of customers carefully negotiate SLAs only to never monitor them. Run Cisco IP SLA and/or ping tests to various endpoints to monitor the quality you are getting. Setup synthetic application tests (HTTP GETs etc) at your home connection to test the end-user experience continually.

7) Think about routing (BGP), load balancing and failover before buying anything. Find out exactly what each carrier will support and think about how it fits for your IT capabilities. Do you want eBGP in your life and can you support it with your IT resources? Some carriers offer solutions to provide load balancing and diverse connectivity that can help you avoid the need to run BGP.

For free assistance navigating through all of the above ... simply request no cost help via the following:

Bandwidth Solution

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Anonymous web hosting UK said...

Good post. By understanding the importance of utilizing colocation services in a data center facility, there's no doubt that you'll get a great benefit in terms of cost savings and improved redundancy.

2:35 AM  

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