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It’s time to choose a data center provider. It can be daunting, but understanding what questions to ask (and what answers to look for) will help you make the right decision for your enterprise.

We’ve assembled a list of eight big questions (plus a lot of smaller ones) to ask yourself and your team so you can nail down your strategy, as well as questions to ask a potential data center partner before you sign on the dotted line. Getting answers to these questions will help you make the right calls and ensure that your relationship with a data center partner is a happy and productive one.

What you should ask yourself and your team:

1. Where should you put your data center?

Although this might not seem like an intuitive first step, the same mantra for real estate applies here: location, location, location. First, you need to take into account issues like latency – it’s still faster to transmit data over relatively short distances than long ones.

Then, once you’ve decided on a location, you should ask your potential data center partner about the lay of the land. What is the talent pool like in a place like Ashburn, Phoenix or Dallas? What are the costs of operating there?

2. What do you want your relationship with the data center to look like?

We’ve touched on this before, but we cannot emphasize it enough. Relationships are the crux of a great data center.

That said, you need to go into that relationship with a solid understanding of how much or how little support you'll need from a potential provider throughout the lifetime of your engagement.

For example, some of our clients require a high level of communication while others are perfectly happy if we just leave them to do their work. It's up to the client to set the expectation, and the data center provider to communicate that those expectations are understood and will be followed to the best of their ability.

If, say, you examine your internal resources, and discover that you don't have the staff or appropriate skills necessary, you will know to look for a provider that can help you pick up the slack.

3. What are your specific business and technology goals?

Every business is unique, as are their needs and goals. A hyperscale enterprise most assuredly has different needs than a smaller enterprise. It's critical to understand what you and your team are trying to accomplish with any given data center fit-out.

For instance:

  • Are you a hyperscale organization that needs the on-demand flexibility and availability a colocation data center can provide?
  • Is your business transitioning from the cloud to a hybrid infrastructure?
  • What level of connectivity is critical to your business?
  • What are your business's expansion plans, and have you thought about potential latency or compliance issues?
  • How much on-site support will you need?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself and your team as you examine and plan your own strategy.

Luckily, any potential data center provider worth their salt will be able to provide guidance on any of these questions and more. We do it every day.

That brings us to the next part.

What to ask a potential data center provider:

1. Are they flexible enough to help you expand when you need to?

A relationship with a data center is like any other kind of relationship: you need to ensure that your partner meets your needs not only now, but as you grow. Ask if they have the space to grow with your business demands and make sure you understand clearly how much that growth will cost in advance.

Density also comes into play here. Can they support your needs whether it's 3kW or 3MW? Do they make transitioning to a higher density footprint as seamless a process as possible?

2. What’s the on-boarding and move-in process like?

Nobody likes getting off on the wrong foot. That's why you need any potential provider to provide a roadmap for on-boarding, move-in and beyond.

Essentially, once the ink is dry on the contract, you need a clear understanding of what happens next so you can allocate resources appropriately.

You'll need to ask questions as big-picture as:

  • How long will it take to move in?
  • What resources do I need to provide versus what can the data center provide?
  • Who are my main points-of-contact for various scenarios (outages, security, support, etc.)?
  • How much guidance can the data center provide when it comes to fit-out and architecture planning?
  • If the need arises, how can we expand our space quickly?
  • How are support requests handled? (more on this one a little later)

In addition to questions as specific as:

  • How do we get in?
  • Where do we put our trash?
  • What's the Wi-Fi password?
  • How do we get internet access?
  • Where's the soda machine?

There are plenty more. But the more you understand how a given fit-out and move-in will operate, the easier and more painless it will be.

3. How does your building actually operate?

This is a simple question that actually has many components. Ask how they operate, and how you operate within it. Do they perform maintenance regularly? Do they demonstrate diligence in operations and rapid response to break-fixes?

Perhaps more importantly, what are their processes for audits and mandatory regulatory compliance? They should make it easy for you to audit your operations and provide resources to do so. Who do you go to with questions, and how does the data center answer them? This goes beyond SLAs – you need to be certain that staff are available 24/7/365 to answer and escalate calls.

4. How do you handle issue resolution?

What does the data center’s resolution process look like? Do they own issue resolution 100%? This is important to understand because if they do not, your business will most likely need to add head-count to staff, in order to properly deal with issues internally.

That said, if your data center partner has remote hands and eyes, and an experienced internal team (as we do at NTT), you can rely on them to remediate any issues—whether you have any staff inside the data center or not.

5. How much will it cost?

This might seem like the first question you should ask, but, as is so often the case, with data centers you get what you pay for. The question shouldn’t be ‘who’s the cheapest?’. Instead, consider it in terms of the investment you have to make in the process. Avoiding churn is the way to keep your costs lower.

You also should take into account the cost of doing business. What does the data center charge for remote hands and eyes? What is the monthly or yearly rent?

In the end, if we can single out only one piece of advice, it would be to focus on relationships. You can tell from your first encounter with a data center how they build and grow relationships, but you should always be cognizant of limitations as the discussions progress. How you start, after all, is how you finish.