Get the Most From Your Host

Using a co-location facility to host your data? Ensure that each visit goes smoothly by using our handy checklist.

Co-location can provide the perfect business solution for companies of all sizes. Where else can you find an incredibly fast Internet connection, first-rate technical support, and a secure and reliable environment for your mission-critical online operations? Sure, it all sounds good. Your new hosts are ready to roll out the red carpet. But is everything really ready to go? To get the most out of every visit to the co-location facility ("co-lo"), use common sense and remember the following:

1. Document Your Site Right from the start, it is imperative that accurate records be kept of all technical and nontechnical work performed at your site. Much of that information will originate from your site plan, but create it in a way that can be understood by all parties for the service life of your project.

For example, a visual representation of your site will have great value to both your technicians and to the support team at the co-location site. Find out how your co-lo maps out its systems and facility. If it uses Visio drawings as a reference, consider doing the same.

How will that pay off? If everyone is on the same page—literally—then there will be no surprises when you call the help desk at your co-lo; youll be looking at the same document. Your staff also will benefit if they have an actual photograph of the layout of your cabinet or cage at the co-location facility. Those points are extremely critical and will save you from unnecessary downtime on the phone trying to explain your situation.

Also, dont forget about revisions. When changes are made, make sure the provider updates all of its records. Current documentation also will save you when handling inevitable changes in staffing on your side.

2. Label Your Equipment Poor labeling leads to downtime when an on-site technician cannot make accurate decisions. That happens when information on a trouble ticket doesnt correspond easily with what is found in your equipment cabinet. Be smart and label all of your machines with names and IP addresses in a way that will be clear to everyone.

To elaborate, think about the steps involved in a trouble call. Lets say that your provider is pinging your servers or monitoring port 80 to check the status of your site. Chances are, the providers software will direct it to a certain IP address that is not responding. When the on-site technician prints out the trouble ticket and visits your cabinet, hell look for a machine labeled with the address in question. When he cant find the machine … well, you get the idea.

Also, consider how the technician is going to interact with your systems. If you have a KVM (keyboard/video/ mouse) switch hooked up to multiple machines, make sure that the KVM interface follows your naming conventions. Also, KVM-type devices can be activated using various keyboard combinations—and they arent intuitive. Have an easy-to-spot set of instructions posted. Run a test drill or two, and test your procedures on nontechnical types before sign-off.

3. Ensure Adequate Security/ Access How secure is the facility? Anyone experienced with airport security has a story about "rent-a-cop" scenarios. Often, building security and maintenance functions are provided by third parties. You can assume that the facilitys management has outsourced some of those operations.

Whether or not the security guards are employees of your co-lo, find out as much as possible about their training, knowledge and capabilities before you begin your installation. Is your provider taking a risky money-saving measure, or is the security firm capable of protecting your site?

Ask how information is shared between co-lo management and the security firm. For example, how fast is the security access list updated when you hire a new employee or remove access for a terminated employee? Are the guards using a printed list—which is easy to misplace or leave exposed? Your technicians need to start work once they arrive at the site, so access must be straightforward and reliable. Also, there are times when you may need to permit entry for a third-party technician or other vendor. How easy is it to have temporary access granted?

Compile a list of examples unique to your situation and review them with your co-location provider before a crisis situation puts everyone on their toes. Negotiate with the co-lo to take a practice run, and test the security and access procedures at the facility. It may sound like hacking, but it is wiser to find security holes up front than to have to patch them up later on.

4. Be Self-Sufficient Before you arrive, make sure that your space is ready for prime time. Has your connection been wired to your cabinet? Is it live and tested to meet your specifications? Some work requires the services of third-party vendors, such as the local phone company. Verify that all such work has been completed before plugging in. Have your power connections been established and activated? Will the locks and keys be ready, tested and waiting for you?

Think about items you will need to bring with you, and ask your co-lo what equipment can be loaned to you. Know ahead of time what will and will not be provided.

For example, you might bring your own drill, labeler and a cable-splicing kit. A phone on hand during your install is an absolute must. If youve elected not to have a dedicated phone alongside your equipment, find out if there will be a temporary phone connected and waiting for you when you arrive. Can you use a cell phone in the data facility? Will a monitor, keyboard and mouse be available to you for temporary use if theyre not a part of your permanent installation? Immediate Internet access via your laptop also may come in handy as you work through your install.

Chances are, the HVAC system will keep the facility colder than your own computer room, so bring along extra clothing. Remember, something as simple as needing a chair or an extension cord can impede your progress. Think ahead, and save yourself valuable time.

Even though you are accustomed to how things operate at your own office, dont forget that your provider may not be set up with all of the services you take for granted. Through careful planning, your first (and subsequent) site visits will run like clockwork.