The Danger of Assumptions When Colocation Shopping

People make a lot of assumptions—and you know what they say about that. However, assumptions when shopping for colocation service providers can lead to expensive and devastating mistakes. Choosing a colocation provider that’s local to Utah, features a data center with optimal security and has customer service that sets the bar high is critical. These factors might not seem important during the shopping stage, but unfortunately too many customers realize the importance once it’s too late, like after a natural disaster or when a data center gets burglarized.

Recently, British Telecom was interviewed by a data center educational media outlet in celebration of just how far the telecommunications company has come. It was founded in the 1870s and in almost 150 years has become a monster of a telecom company with $27 billion in revenue each year. Obviously, “BT” has a huge worldwide data center and prides itself on keeping up with the latest technology trends. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of BT, Jason Cook, has a few things to share about the company’s data center strategy and some words of wisdom for anyone, anywhere in the world, looking for colocation services.

Spending Wisely

When you have as much cashflow as BT, you can buy, build or lease your data centers. Cook says BT does “all of the above” with centers in various countries, and utilizes a host of technologies. Diversification, if you can swing it, is the best bet for keeping all of your data protected. If you don’t have billions of dollars each year in revenue, the next best thing is staying with a local Utah colocation agency. As for Cook, he says there are numerous factors that dictate which regions/countries are selected to host the data centers. He reports, “In Colombia, we built because we see a longer term strategic advantage of doing that,” but notes that “it’s not always frugal to build everything from scratch.”

For satellite locations, Cook says it’s all about gauging the business opportunities in that specific area. When he’s specifically looking for colocation providers, Cook emphasizes “ability to scale.” He wants to know how “fat” the network is and how strong the power offerings are. “You’d be surprised how often these colo sites go off the air,” he warns. “And more and more importantly now, physical security as well as cyber security.” Never assume that a colocation provider is stable and financially secure—check their history and don’t be afraid to ask for their public financial statements.

Colocation for Security

Colocation isn’t just paramount for security for the business, but also for the business’ customers. Cook says, “We want to absolutely guarantee all of the obvious vulnerabilities (are addressed). There’s no point in having sexy cybersecurity if someone can still walk in. We do random spot checks for all of our colos all the time.” While sending someone from your company to randomly drop in to your colocation provider’s data center may not be feasible, customers should at least rest easy knowing the colocation provider itself is doing random security checks. Around the clock human security is essential.

BT was asked if they had successfully penetrated a colocation data center during a random check, and unfortunately the answer was yes. “We have run into situations where we’re walking around on the third floor of a data center with the ability to touch stuff. And then we call the manager and say, ‘Excuse me, but we just walked in’.” Cook doesn’t go into details of the manager’s usual response, but alludes to the idea that it’s not a very joyful one.

Safe and Sound(?)

There are many horror stories about cyber attacks, but don’t assume that physical attacks are any less prevalent. Cook explains, “(Lack of) Physical security is still one of the easiest ways to get access to data. With all of the sophistication in the current technology, what’s the point if someone can walk in and open the door?” He notes, “Anyone that’s trying to get access to data will try the most obvious things first.” It’s kind of like home security: The vast majority of burglars simply stroll in through an open or unlocked front door—it’s much easier than MacGyver-ing a skylight!

BT, a company which has been around for well over a century, isn’t actually doing anything to vet their colocation providers that anyone else can’t do. They may be able to afford to send employees to randomly check data centers around the world, but if you go with a local Utah-based colocation provider, you can likely do the same thing. However, this also highlights another issue: A “local” provider might have a data center in a very remote area. This makes it difficult for you (and burglars) to access it, but it can also be difficult for the colocation staff to access it in case of an emergency. There’s such a thing as “too secure,” at least when it comes to the physical data center location.

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