What's the difference between "the cloud" and a data centre?
If you’re an SMB looking to expand your business or get more tech-savvy, you have a lot of options: Should you turn to the cloud? Should you buy your own equipment? Or should you lease space from a third-party provider?
It can be a tough decision, especially if you don’t have an IT pro on staff to help you navigate these cloudy waters.
Public clouds have come a long way. But most businesses, even small ones, are hesitant to move their entire IT infrastructure over to the cloud. Nor do they want to spend the time and money building out a data centre. Colocation services are another option, where you rent or lease physical space from a third-party provider, but still maintain control of your IT resources.
Like most things in IT, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Here are a few considerations when deciding which route to take.
The difference between "the cloud" and colocation
Public clouds and colocation services have a few things in common. They both move IT workloads out of your environment and into theirs. And rather than paying an upfront cost, you pay a recurring service fee.
Here’s the difference, at its most basic level: colocation providers rent out physical space for your equipment, while cloud providers own the equipment and rent it out to you as a service.
Colocation providers aren’t just landlords for your equipment. The service fee typically includes everything from power and storage to security and maintenance of your equipment. While pricing for colocation services used to be complex and confusing, many providers are now offering cloud-like payment models to keep up with their cloud competitors, making it a more enticing option for SMBs.
Cloud providers also provide storage, security and maintenance — on their own equipment. Sure, you don’t own the equipment, but it’s quick, easy and convenient to get up and running. You pay a fixed monthly fee, and you can scale up (or down) as required. For a small business, it makes a lot of sense – and it helps you stay nimble.
“Whatever approach an organization opts for, the IT platform they choose has to adequately support the business in its aims,” writes Clive Longbottom, co-founder and service director at Quocirca, in an article for ComputerWeekly. “This is increasingly where a fully in-house facility/platform model is failing. As yet, the end game is not decided. Colocation and public cloud both have their parts to play in any system — just do not write one or the other off for any ivory tower reasons.”
The advantages of a colocation facility
Maybe you’re happy with your current solution, but need to expand and don’t have the physical space or power. Or, maybe you’ve already invested in equipment and don’t want to throw that investment out the window. In those cases, colocation makes a lot of sense. It’s also ideal if you don’t have IT staff to manage your infrastructure or if you’re looking for an offsite backup solution.
Beyond the worries of space and power, there is also the consideration of cooling and keeping your equipment at the right temperature. The more computers you have, the hotter it gets and these may cause strain on your HVAC system, so a colocation partner helps you avoid that issue altogether. Plus the facility will handle concerns about redundancy and maintaining a long-lasting backup power source.
The advantages of "the cloud"
On the other hand, if you haven’t invested much in your existing infrastructure — or don’t want to — cloud hosting could be a better approach. It’s also handy for short-term deployments (such as test environments), if you need to get an application up-and-running ASAP, or if you’re looking for specific expertise, such as customer relationship management.
Keep in mind, though, that cloud hosting isn’t necessarily cheaper than investing in your own equipment. If your company grows, the cost of cloud services could also grow — in some cases, quite significantly.
Despite the many benefits of cloud, most businesses aren’t comfortable giving up complete control over their IT infrastructure. There are other reasons, too. If you have a complex environment or prefer to use a specific operating system, it might make more sense to own rather than lease. And if your industry has strict security or compliance requirements, you’ll need to see if cloud is up to the task.
Finding the perfect combination
That’s why a hybrid approach — a little bit of cloud, a little bit of colocation — is becoming increasingly popular. Colocation could also be a gateway to hosted private cloud, according to TechTarget: “Colocation facilities can also mix and match a hybrid cloud stack, with multiple connections for public and private cloud elements.”
So when it comes to cloud or colocation, it’s not a one-or-the-other decision. It’s not a one-time decision. Your business will change, your needs will change — so your approach to IT should be flexible enough to adapt.
MTS Data Centres provides more information and technical details on their colocation services if you're ready to learn more.
About the Author
Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vawn Himmelsbach