What Is Colocation and When Should You Use It for Web Hosting?

Dedicated web Server

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Colocation is a hosting option for small businesses that want the features of a large IT department without the costs. Many large corporations have the Internet infrastructure to host their own web servers and have a team of IT professionals to manage and design the site, individuals and small companies do not. There is a wide range of options available from simple hosting up to running your own web servers off of a dedicated Internet connection. One such option is colocation. In the first part of this series, we will examine why one would choose colocation over the other hosting options.

What Is Colocation?

Colocation allows you to place your server machine in someone else's rack and share their bandwidth as your own. It generally costs more than standard web hosting, but less than a comparable amount of bandwidth into your place of business. Once you have a machine set up, you take it physically to the location of the colocation provider and install it in their rack or you rent a server machine from the colocation provider. That company then provides an IP, bandwidth, and power to your server. Once it's up and running, you access it much like you would access a website on a hosting provider. The difference is that you own the hardware.

What We Like

  • The biggest advantage of colocation is the cost of bandwidth. For example, a low-cost limited bandwidth business grade DSL line generally costs around $150 to $200, but for the same price or less a single server can be placed in a colocation facility that provides higher bandwidth speeds and better redundancy for the network connections. These savings can be even greater if the only dedicated network access is a more expensive full or fractional T1 lines.
  • Colocation facilities have better outage protection. During a long ice-storm last year, our office was without power for three days. While we have a backup generator, it wasn't powerful enough to keep the server running that entire time, so our websites were down during that outage. At a colocation provider, we are paying for power generators and backup power to protect against that type of situation.
  • We own the server machinery. If we decide that the machine is too slow or doesn't have enough memory, we can simply upgrade the server. We don't have to wait for our provider to get around to upgrading it.
  • We own the server software. We don't have to rely on our hosting provider to install the software or tools we want to use. We simply do it ourselves. If we decide to use ASP or ColdFusion or ASP, we just purchase and install the software.
  • If we move, we can leave the server up and running the entire time. When we host our own domains we have to either pay for two lines for some time, to move the domains to the new location or deal with outages while the servers are moved to the new location.
  • Colocation providers provide additional security for your machines. Your server is stored and maintained in a secure environment.
  • Most colocation servers offer a service where they will manage and maintain your server for you for an extra cost. This is especially useful if you don't have IT team members or your office is located far from the provider.

What We Don't Like

  • Colocation providers can be hard to find. You want to find one near where your office or home is located so that you can upgrade and maintain your server when you need to. But unless you live near a large city with major network hubs, chances are you won't find many colocation options.
  • Colocation can be more expensive than basic web hosting. This is especially true as you have to maintain and manage your servers yourself, so when the server needs to be upgraded, you need to purchase that hardware and install it.
  • Physical access to your server can be difficult because you have to travel to their location during your colocation provider's service hours.
  • If you move out of the area where your colocation provider is, you have to either move your servers to a new provider or leave them there and pay for a maintenance contract.
  • Another drawback to colocation can be fluctuating prices. Since one of the factors in the monthly rate of collocating a server is the amount of data transferred via the server in the monthly period, an unusually large amount of traffic in a monthly period can cause the bill for the service to jump dramatically.

Is Colocation the Way to Go?

This is a question that is difficult to answer. For individuals who run small sites for personal use or blogs probably do not need the level of service provided by colocation and are better off with web hosting. If however, the server is needed to be more robust than what is provided by standard web hosting, colocation is often times the best next option. It is also a very good option for small businesses that want to have a fairly large web presence but don't want to have to deal with a large number of items such as network connections.