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Articles : Choosing a Data Center Provider According to Data Center Experts

Choosing a data center to host a colocated or dedicated server is a mission critical task that may determine your web property's success. To help elucidate the most important aspects in selecting a particular data center host, The Hosting News has turned to web hosting industry experts for answers. We asked three top experts in web hosting data centers to tell us what they would look for if they had to choose a data center for a dedicated server or colocation.

Aaron Phillips, is Vice President of Marketing and Sales at FastServers.Net, a company which offers a unique combination of strategic assistance, advanced technology and profound system administration knowledge applied to its core products - dedicated servers and managed web hosting. Mr. Phillips provided his '3 Key Elements' in choosing where to place your next server.

''Element 1: The data center needs to be redundant, you hear the catch phrase all the time but to meet the high availability standards you should ask the following questions.

Describe the facility cooling with specific models and sub-systems in place. How much power per rack is provided and how many servers do you place in a rack? (Remember servers generate the heat, the more servers the hotter the data center will be)

Describe power to the racks, battery backups, and diesel generator power and more importantly describe the specific testing procedures in place.

Describe the network and how it is physically brought into the building, are the network systems redundant with divergent paths? Can a single network provider outage bring the network down? Do you have 3rd party analytics to verify network uptime?

N+1 is the key industry term you are looking for. In selecting a data center that is N+1, the provider is claiming not only redundancy but that "cold spares" are standing by in the event of a double failure. The formula is a good industry standard to get a base knowledge of knowing your server(s) are going to be located in a great facility. In selecting the data center it is also important to consider location - all of the above are irrelevant if the data center sits in areas prone to flood, earthquake, tornados, or locations susceptible to rolling black outs. These locations are red flags that problems outside the data center operator's control may result in downtime.

Element 2: Technical Support must be available pursuant to the needs of the customer, but the minimum should be 24x7 remote hands. The need for more advanced support will require both remote hands and support engineers to ensure the necessary services are being provided. Knowing in advance what type of support is associated with the data center of your choice should help to determine crucial deployment strategies which will include the following:

Remote KVM, which provides you console access to the server - meaning if you have a kernel panic, blue screen of death, or need to adjust bios settings you can remote into the server and have the same direct access as you would sitting right in front of the server.

Remote Reboot, which provides power cycling of the server in the event it becomes unavailable.

The most important part of this element is understanding your own skill set and selecting a provider that fills in the gaps. Managed services can include items such as server monitoring, software support, operating system support, backups, anti-spam services, and much more. Determining your own specific needs will help you find the perfect provider the first time around.

Element 3: Partners and Vendors of the Data Center or Solution Provider

All too often I am looking at pictures of data centers claiming high availability and superior technical support at a very low price. What I see in the pictures are rows upon rows of Desktop Computers (Tower Cases). These servers are based on cost providers a fraction of the cost by using sub-standard PC components. This is the first red flag that a data center is less than desirable to host mission critical applications. Lower end components are more likely to fail, generate more heat, and utilize components that are not meant for mission critical hosting. If the provider is providing you with 'white box' servers or computers, they most likely haven't invested in N+1 infrastructure.

Tips for identifying these providers:

Ask for pictures of the data center, including where the servers are located.

Ask for a live tour, meaning you will come onsite to view the facility.

Ask the provider if they use rack mount servers, the brand, and the reason they selected the specific servers.

All solutions providers are not equal and when it comes to selecting a quality provider, understanding the facility, your needs, and the components that are inside the data center will help you make a wise decision. There are plenty of budget providers that provide 'floor space', 'power', and 'white box servers' and will claim data center status. Don't be fooled by these providers, ask them questions, ask for proof, and make your own evaluation based on solid evidence!''

Darrell Hyde is the Director of Network Operations at HostMySite.com, a trusted name in web hosting with a well deserved reputation for the industry's highest levels of support and service. HostMySite.com has been a key vendor of managed web servers in addition to its shared web hosting services. The company owns and operates its own data centers which were designed based on real-world experience since 1997. The company has recently introduced a managed virtual private server product line. Below are Mr. Hyde's comments on selecting a web host and data center.

''What do I look for in a web host? What's interesting about this question is that though I've been running data centers for the better part of 10 years, I've never actually had to look for one. What's also worth pointing out is that looking for a data center is very different than deciding where to host a dedicated server. For sake of the discussion, let's assume you're a company with no interest in getting into web hosting, looking to host a server or an application. You're not looking for a data center - you're looking for a web host.

Web hosts basically operate in one of two ways - either they collocate their infrastructure in a data center or carrier hotel, leaving things like power and environmental conditions up to someone else, or they build, run, and maintain their own facilities. Having worked in both environments, and being someone who likes to have his hands on every little thing, I'd have to say I prefer the latter.

Now that we have that out of the way, when evaluating where to host a dedicated server, understanding the lights lights-out capabilities of your prospective hosts is very important. By lights-out capabilities, I mean what are their capabilities when your server is down and completely unreachable. How soon can they have a tech looking into the problem? If hardware has failed, how soon can replacement parts be made available?
If data needs to be restored, how quickly can this be done? The point I'm making is that when things are going well, most hosting companies are the same - its when the chips (or rather the servers) are down that you find out if you're really getting your money's worth. And finally - how willing is the host to put their claims into writing in the form of an SLA that guarantees credit if they fail to meet their obligations?

Beyond service, there are a number of important technical details that are worth investigating. First, how is the host connected to the Internet?  Do they have multiple carriers? What type of media is the connectivity delivered over, and how diverse are their local facilities?
What is their total aggregate capacity, and how close do they come to maxing out during peak times?  And of course, can they survive the failure of one or more carriers with little to no customer impact?

Multiple carriers, diverse facilities, and the ability to survive the loss of one or more of either are a must. Fiber gets cut, construction crews make mistakes, and from time to time upstream routers fail - these are things that will never change. What's important is that your host has put the time and money into building a network (and employing the people to run it) that can survive these kinds of events.''

Brent Oxley is the founder of Host Gator, a strong player in the reseller, shared and dedicated hosting space. The company built its brand and reputation by offering resellers the ability to host unlimited sites, backed by a turnkey reseller solution and deep expertise in support. Mr. Oxley is a true rising star in web hosting entrepreneurship. Below are his thoughts on selecting a great data center.

''Years ago when Host Gator was in it's infancy stage we chose The Planet to provide us with three dedicated servers. The decision to go with The Planet was made by doing research on their reputation, uptime, and support. Our company had no way of knowing the future - so the best we could do was examine the track record they had at the time. We've grown from our three servers with them to over 1,700 servers and over 500,000 domains hosted. The datacenter that houses your servers is the very foundation of a web business, and who you choose to go with can spread or extinguish your companies very existence.

There are thousands of companies out there so you first need to come up with a list of candidates. The best way to get this list is by putting it together based on those with the best reputation, support, and uptime. You do this by asking for recommendations, reading hosting forums, and really just getting as much information as you can from as many sources as possible. One of the biggest mistakes I see startups doing is going with a flavor of the month. You can take the risk of going with a  new company, but keep in mind the longer a company has been in business the better your odds they are going to remain in business. Smoke and mirrors only last so long - don't fall for a flavor of the month.

Getting recommendations and reading information online is great, but you should also get your own first hand experience. I recommend testing each company's support by calling and submitting support tickets at various hours and days of the week. A hard drive can grind to a halt any time of the day, if and when it does you are going to need someone standing by their support desk ready to jump on your problem.''

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