The other day I was flying out of the Newark airport. Crushed into coach, having been awake for the last 20 hours, my neighbor and I struck up a conversation about what we did for a living. As he described his role, I quickly mentally scrambled to “how am I ever going to explain what I do to this guy.” Our companies and roles could not have been more different. I was certain that there would be no conversation with my new friend in 31E if I dove into an explanation of high performance Internet business platforms. Carefully weighing my desire to sleep, I offered “I build facilities for businesses who require a connection to the Internet as a key part of their business — like this airline. All that ticketing and online check-in… All came out of a data center building that is connected to the Internet.” Definitely not the approved corporate pitch.
That was of course, followed by a blank stare. The reality is that despite multi-tenant data centers generating $15 billion in annual revenue, most people have no real idea that outsourced data center services exist. For most people, data centers are computer closets at the back of their office. So I continued: “My company, Internap, invests tens of millions of dollars in building or retrofitting an office building or warehouse so that it can house computers in a secure, reliable environment.” He understood that. He had a server closet at the back of his office.
“In our case, we sub-divide these data centers and make them available for individual businesses.” Blank stare. “Data centers for business follow a path not unlike having kids. When your business is relatively small, like your kids, your IT services live at home with you in a server closest at the back of your office (not to say you make your kids live in the hall closet, but you get the idea). However, your kid grows up, gets big, goes to college and moves into an apartment. Your IT services can do that too. It’s a service that we offer called colocation. Essentially, it’s ‘apartments for servers.’ We also offer furnished apartments for servers – we call that managed hosting which is also pretty cool …” Stare started going blank. “…but a little off topic. Anyhow, eventually, your kid grows up, gets married, has a family and moves into either a condo or his own house. The condo is what we call wholesale or turnkey data center – basically you have a section of the building or a whole building to be customized to meet your needs. The house is for businesses that really want to do it all themselves. We don’t do houses. We do all the rest.” He smiled. “That’s pretty cool. I had no idea.”
Thinking back on it, apartments for servers is a great way to describe colocation. Both products are location-sensitive. Both take large buildings and break them down into private spaces. Both have a professional staff that maintains the property and security personnel to protect your stuff. Both offer you a lot of options to do what you want so long as you don’t irritate your neighbors. Both offer some level of custom sizing, rapid availability, easy upgrades and amenities that help you make the most of being there.
With the analogy of apartments for servers in mind, it seems to me to be completely natural to use a 3rd party data center as a part of your business evolution. In fact, for those of you with server closets at the back of your office, I’ll suggest that if you just move your business out and into its own space, it might grow up a little faster. Not unlike your kids.