When Colocation Becomes the Cloud

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    Colocation has been a fact of life for many an enterprise for some time now. And increasingly, so is the cloud.

    That fact is starting to generate some interesting questions as to what is and is not a cloud architecture. Or, more to the point, when will the enterprise know when it has crossed the line between a standard colocation server and an actual cloud.

    Until recently, the lines were relatively clear. As the UK’s CL4 points out, colocation is when you house your own hardware, either owned or leased servers and storage, in someone else’s data center. You maintain complete control over the entire infrastructure as if it were simply a fully owned remote data facility. In the cloud, infrastructure and other resources are made available as services – the only thing you actually own are the APIs needed to access the services. To the enterprise, then, it’s a question of how much of the actual infrastructure you are willing to give up in order to gain a flexible and dynamic data environment.

    But even these differences are starting to break down as colocation providers discover the efficacy, and profitability, of becoming cloud providers. As Time Warner’s Navisite subsidiary discovered, it was rather a tough sell moving clients from standard colocation into the relatively tame area of managed services. But now that the company has launched a cloud, it has a much easier time tailoring various levels of service based on client needs. At the same time, it enables a much more efficient use of resources, producing higher revenues and lower power consumption per square foot of data center space.

    Other providers are taking this a step further and introducing new levels of cloud functionality directly onto their colocation tiers. Internap Network Services, for example, has begun touting its “cloud colo” capabilities that provide remote visibility and management for its colocation customers, as well as on-demand hybridization of cloud and colocation footprints. In this way, the company says it can provide both the ownership features of colocation with the transparency and automation that comes with the cloud. This is crucial for firms that require broad infrastructure control and dynamic scale-out capabilities when data loads spike.

    And in an ironic twist, while colocation providers are turning to the cloud, cloud providers are warming up to colocation. CyrusOne says it is doing a brisk business supporting cloud infrastructure as demand starts to overwhelm available capacity. Cloud providers are, after all, merely data center operators, and when they need additional resources in a hurry, they turn to third parties as well. And adding even further irony, cloud providers are themselves starting to worry about security and reliability as they move customers’ loads from their owned-and-operated facilities.

    All of this points up one of the key concerns about the cloud: Once data and applications are out there, it is very difficult to track them, and it is conceivable that critical information could wind up not just on third-party infrastructure, but fourth-, fifth- and sixth-party as well.

    If this turns out to simply be the nature of the cloud, then it is certainly something to think about when looking over the next service-level agreement.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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