Colocation vs Managed Hosting
If you’ve ever registered a domain name, the registrar probably offered to host your website for a small fee. Or maybe you signed up with a third-party hosting company, either one of the ‘free website hosting’ vendors or one that charges a fee, and received an ‘account’ with which you could create or upload your website content, set up email boxes, and so on? In either case, what you received was a Managed Hosting account. Simply put, this means that the hosting provider ‘managed’ everything that was required to give you an online presence for your website – the hardware (web server and networking equipment), software (web server and email software, site creation software), the internet backbone connection, maintenance, upgrades, backups, and so on. Once signed up, all you had to do was create your web pages, set up your email boxes, and order any other additional services you wanted.
Incidentally, the above scenario described a typical shared hosting account – which just means that many customers such as yourself shared space and resources on a single server, which has been designed to host multiple accounts simultaneously. An alternative to this is a dedicated hosting account, often referred to as a dedicated server, or in some cases, a virtual private server. As with shared hosting, your provider owns and manages the hardware, and takes care of all the infrastructure details (networking and internet connectivity), backups and maintenance. But in this case, the entire server is dedicated for just your use. Typically, the software installed on the server will allow you to host more than one website, and often you are allowed some control over how the server itself functions, which is NOT the case with shared accounts. There are variations in between shared and dedicated hosting – offerings called ‘virtual dedicated’ and ‘reseller shared’ and so on, but suffice to say that they are all different forms of Managed Hosting.
Colocation is a very different animal. With colocation, you purchase and own both the hardware (servers) and software that will host your web presence, AND you are responsible for properly setting up and configuring both. Depending upon your needs, you may also purchase a network device or two (switch, router, firewall, vpn appliance, etc) to manage traffic in and out of your servers. Usually these are not sold to you by the colocation provider, nor do they dictate what you can or cannot buy – you are free to choose the combination that best fits your needs. Once ready, you install your equipment at the colocation provider’s data center. They may provide assistance with this, but normally this is your responsibility. They provide you with space in a data cabinet in their facility, power for your equipment, IP addresses for your use (or a cross-connect to a dedicated carrier if you are bringing your own bandwidth), and an uplink port for you to connect your equipment to their network, which leads to the Internet. The better facilities are staffed 24/7, and will offer some basic support on request, but you are responsible for the upkeep of your equipment, and will be allowed physical access whenever you need it. The colocation provider is responsible for the security and upkeep of the facility, so that the space, power and bandwidth that they provide you are not compromised.
Let’s take a moment to discuss ‘bandwidth’ a bit more – part of any online presence is that all-important pathway to the Internet. With managed hosting, Internet bandwidth is an integral part of the offering, with the only questions being how much initial bandwidth you need, rates for overages, etc. In the case of colocation, bandwidth may not be automatically included in the provider’s offering. Many colocation providers have a ‘house’ bandwidth offering, which will typically be a blend of two or more major Internet traffic carriers, that they can deliver to you colo space at a reasonable cost. For many colocation projects, the house offering may be all that is needed. Colocation data centers will typically have several major carriers ‘on-Net’, meaning that the carriers have active service already present in the facility. If you prefer to get service from one of these carriers, either instead of, or in addition to, the facility house blend, you can order service directly from the carrier, then get a network cross-connect from the facility that will deliver the carrier bandwidth to you colo space. Depending upon the types of services and amount of bandwidth needed, one option may be more affordable or make more overall sense than the other – something that you must determine.
As you can see, Colocation is much more of a hands-on, do-it-yourself solution, as opposed to Managed Hosting. It’s called ‘colocation’ because you act like you own managed host, co-locating your equipment in a data center, instead of, say, trying to host it yourself from your home or office internet connection (not recommended if you want good throughput and stability!).
So now you know what Colocation is, and how it differs from Managed Hosting. So why would you choose Colocation – or not?