Colocation: Managed or unmanaged?

Posted on September 25th, 2012


Constant investments in your IT assets can result in a competitive advantage, increased efficiency, and even in a higher revenue for your company. On the other hand, with the vastly evolving nature of technology, high upfront investments in sophisticated IT infrastructure might be risky. Combining the unsteady nature of IT and the fluctuating, global economy, colocation might be a perfect solution to this dilemma.


Colocation buyers can profit from their provider’s cutting-edge data centre infrastructure including cooling, raised floors, and surveillance, while paying just for the rack space they are using. Moreover, colocation services are easily scalable (read more about the advantages of colocation hosting). However, having decided to colocate your web hosting with an external colocation service provider is only half the battle. There is the other important question of managed versus unmanaged colocation?

Depending on the web hosting provider, managed colocation implies that clients place their own IT equipment in their provider’s data centre, whose team is responsible for running the servers smoothly and maintaining them. In short, clients provide the hardware while providers help to set it up and take over from there.


Usually, managed hosting includes maintenance services such as reboots, back ups, disaster recovery solutions, technical support, asset tracking, threat management, and software upgrades. One main advantage of using these managed services is that a professional web hosting company can offer them at lower costs. It also helps to secure piece of mind on side of the buyer as managed colocation redistributes the responsibilities over a company’s IT assets. Nevertheless, buyers should be comfortable giving away control over their equipment to an external provider.


Unmanaged colocation means to rent physical space (racks) in an external data centre while remaining in control over both, software and hardware of ones own IT assets. In unmanaged colocation deals, the service provider is merely responsible for server storage, power supplies to the server, and the protection of a client’s equipment. The client’s IT staff remains responsible for setting up and maintaining their servers.


Unmanaged colocation allows great flexibility while the control over the configuration and use of a server remains with the client. Nevertheless, unmanaged colocation might be work intensive and can distract a company’s IT staff from their core responsibilities. Another argument against unmanaged colocation is the responsibility for the servers. Is the own IT department skilled and equipped enough to fully manage and maintain the company servers?


In case a company decides to make use of managed colocation, the choice of a service provider is integral to its failure or success. In this regard, buyers should take time to scrutinize their provider of choice prior to an engagement. Does a provider differentiate itself from the competition by adding extra value beyond pricing? How is customer service and support defined? Is the provider transparent about the data centre infrastructure?


According to a recent 451 Group report, “it is clear that the most adaptable, economically sustainable and best-managed data centers will be those where managers have accurate and meaningful information about their data center’s assets, resource use and status—ideally from the lowest level of infrastructure up into the middle or higher echelons of the IT stack.”*


To sum up, the choice between managed and unmanaged colocation should always be thoroughly deliberated. In consultation with their IT staff, CIOs should think about how much responsibility over the company servers should remain in-house. This decision should not be purely based on service prices as an investment in the maintenance and security of a business’s IT assets will definitely pay off in the long-run.


*The 451 Group, 2011. Datacenter Infrastructure Management Software: Monitoring, Managing and Optimizing the Datacenter Report.