[NA] Server colocation [NA]

Discussion in 'Technical Corner' started by weilke, Jan 30, 2012.

  1. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I have a tower server that is located in our main office. Through some changes in what we are doing, I need to access this server remotely more often than locally. At this point, I am starting to run into limitations related to the cable-modem based internet connections we are using.

    I am thinking about moving the server to a colocation center. Most of those require the servers to be in a 19in rack configuration, some seem to offer space for servers in a tower form factor.

    My bandwith needs are not that high, I just need something better than the 'upload' that our different cable providers offer, I also want to have this critical business data better secured than I can provide at our office. Also, the cable modem goes down ever so often, while working locally that is not much of an issue as the 3G stick I use for failover does a good job of keeping us connected to the world. Still, having the server on a professional redundant connection would be very desireable.

    I am new to this world of colocation services:
    What are the things to look out for ?
    Has anyone put a tower server into a data center ?
    Does any of our resident geeks happen to have a recommendation for a data center in the metro DC area / northern VA ?
     
  2. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down PoA Supporter

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    19" rack mount servers are the standard, if you're serious about putting a machine in a co-lo. Towers waste space.

    Do you need to place your physical server in a co-location facility or could you just run the entire thing on a larger Virtual Server farm where they give you a Virtual machine (or two, or ten or whatever you need)?

    Some co-locations have humans there 24/7. Other's just give you a badge/key to your cage/rack. One near here has combination locks on their half-cabinets. Quite a large variety of things available out there in the co-location market.

    Your questions...

    Things to look for:
    - Power... how do they handle outages. How many feeds from the city. More than one route?
    - Data connectivity... same questions.

    The price of various levels of "all of the above" goes up depending on how "up" you need to be. Will the place run on its own for a month after something like Katrina? Maybe not... or maybe... that's the extreme. (There were data centers that did keep running for quite some time until their diesel ran out and they couldn't get deliveries, but their UPSTREAM network providers also slowly went "dark" for the same reasons...)

    Has anyone put a server in a data center?
    - I've built whole data centers... and my employer has 300-400 machines in a few of them right now... does that count? :)

    DC/Northern VA:
    - Sorry, none of "my" data centers were there. Something to think about: Any particular reason you want it local?

    Any good server setup can be configured to not only be operated remotely but completely reloaded, even all the way up from bare metal remotely, if you want to do the work. Not super difficult. Often part of a Disaster Recovery Plan for larger shops using more than a single machine.

    Many co-locations do have "remote hands" support for someone to stuff a disk in a drive, etc... but be careful with those... there's a reason remote hands guys are often nicknamed "NOC Monkeys". Don't expect a lot of enthusiasm or knowledge... sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't, when you call on the phone.

    Other stuff to consider:
    - If you're going to need to reboot it... remote power switch needed. You can rely on the co-location staff if they have one, but I will GUARANTEE they'll throw the power on the wrong box, eventually. Manage it yourself.

    - Seriously consider a Virtualized server for a single machine like yours. Why mess with hardware at all. Let them deal with it.

    - Network security: Putting the machine in a nice locked up data center and then sticking a public IP address on it... is often the first step to a small company learning what it's like to be "owned" by script kiddies on the Internet. Sounds like you're already on a public IP pipe at the office... just remember the IP address ranges of co-lo and data centers are known to have machines on "big pipes" and are much more useful as a target to the bad guys, than something on a limited bandwidth cable modem pipe. You're playing in the deep end, once you have a connection that's fast right off of a Tier 1 network provider.

    If Windows, "Patch Tuesday" becomes rather an important day of your month. :) Linux, stuff can be released that's critical at just about any time. (Microsoft too, but they tend not to...)

    Can answer more questions here, or on the phone...
     
  3. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    We had a tropical storm here last year. Power and cable were down for several days. With the local server I just hooked the different UPSs that run to a generator and was up and running. I also have an instance of the application on a ginormous laptop with its own built in raid for those cases.

    That counts :thumbsup:

    So I can haul the box over there without having to worry about shipping it accross the country. Also, if I ever need to load something from a dvd or some hardware croaks.

    That would be one of the advantages of having it semi-local, I can break stuff myself ;) .

    I noticed that a couple offer a remote power power switch, presumably through their website.
    I can remember only episode in the last 2 years that required an unplanned power reset on the server. The cable modem otoh......

    'cause I already have the hardware and it works, buying a rack-mount would be going to machine #3 in 2 years.

    That was one of the questions I had for the vendors I have exchanged emails with.
    One place that accomodates towers stated that they allow some space on top of the chassis to stick a customer supplied firewall there. To do that, I would need a a second switched outlet I guess.
    Some seem to offer a firewall as part of their service with just the specified ipsec tunnels going in.
    I dont need any of the typical web services/ports to be accessible. This is mostly a database server.

    Patch tuesday followed by 'desolation wednesday' when things that worked before stop working 'oh, it shouldn't do that' is a phrase that I have heard more than once :nono: .
     
  4. zaitcev

    zaitcev En-Route

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    VPSes have their place, but I only use them when the money is available but proportional to the traffic (e.g. ad-based). If you want predictabilty, rent a dedi(cated).

    Colo is usually expensive and not worth it, unless you have some really super specific hardware, like some kind of SSL accelerator under development. And like Nate says, these days very few people rent cages anymore, because 19" is more affordable than ever.

    Trawl through webhostingtalk.com and find a provider you like. I had a very good luck with Pacific Rack before, but that was before Quadra bought them. The whole scene changes every month.
     
  5. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    I have looked at pricing to rent a server vs. colocating my own box and found renting to be about x5 in price.

    I knew there had to be a web-board for this.
     
  6. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down PoA Supporter

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    Now that I'm home and have a few more minutes...

    It sounds like you're pretty happy with your current setup with the server at the office. At the size you're at, one server, it's an awkward size to co-locate at.

    I assume you've already talked to the local Cable company -- many are in the conversion process from DOCSIS 2 to DOCSIS 3 which offers some much bigger bandwidth rates by bonding a number of channels on the cable together. In my area, they're offering some pretty good outbound speeds. If you're happy with the current setup, you may want to double-check that the speeds you were originally given are accurate today. In my area, an upgrade of the cablemodem and a few bucks more a month, and there's big bandwidth available now.

    Anyway... back to the co-location thing... I agree that a Virtual machine may not be the right way to go. They're often the cheapest, but you do lose some amount of control using one. They're also the cheapest, so I kinda went just "one rung" up the ladder from where you're at with one machine on a cablemodem.

    Many places that offer space for a tower will do one of two things:
    - Put it on a shelf in the rack cabinet, sitting upright, and you pay for all that open space next to it. (The comment about extra space for a "firewall" is a little odd.)
    - Make you lay it on its side. Not a particularly bad thing, but some towers don't have proper airflow when you do that.

    Rack-mount servers typically work better because they blow air through from front to back, and good data centers have a "hot row" and a "cold row" alternating... the cold air goes in the front, and the hot air goes out the back, and up into overhead air returns.

    Good rack-mount servers also typically have some way to remotely monitor fan condition remotely, temperatures, and physical disk status (if you're mirroring or using RAID 5 to provide disk redundancy you'll want to know if one of them fails). Most towers don't have much in the way of remote monitoring of the hardware. You'll get tired of driving to the co-lo to check on it.

    There's no need to waste money, but there's places that will rent the rack server already in place. No need to transport your machine at all.

    What services are you providing for the office off of the existing machine? Some services (generally anything that moves big files around) should probably stay there.

    Anyway... just curious. I wish you well on the endeavor...

    I worked at a place that successfully ran most of the company out of a closet in the office space in a high-rise building. It worked great until the day the upstairs neighbor's hot water heater broke and it rained in the closet. Amazingly enough, I learned that day that a Sun E-450 will run with an inch of standing water in the bottom of it...

    The best possible solution for any small company IT problem... a working and TESTED backup solution. One that includes the ability to rebuild the machine from bare metal... images of the OS drives, backups of the data drives... and if it hasn't been tried/tested, it's not a disaster plan. It's wishful thinking. :)
     
  7. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Yes and no. I am happy with the setup for what we are doing right now, that is that 90% of the patient encounters and 2/3 of the administrative owrk happen at that office. That layout however will change and most of the work will happen at other locations. Also, this office is in a rural location with a single available broadband provider with a less than optimal record of keeping us connected. As long as we see patients local to the server, a failed internet connection is not a big deal as it only cuts off electronic prescribing. If we are however at one of the other offices, it is a big deal if we dont have access to patient records.

    They just installed a docsis3 modem to replace the last one that fried. The network speed did not change. The next step up in speed from 2 to 5 upload would double my monthly network cost.

    I am getting some quotes back and that is what they are proposing. The place that had the comment about the customer supplied firewall had a pic of their 'tower server ghetto' which basically consisted of sams-club chrome plated food-service racks holding the customers hardware in an area separate from the rows of racked servers.

    Northern virginia is pretty well plastered over with data centers. They have found a good secondary use for the hot air they generate by using it to power congress.

    It runs an electronic medical record and practice management (scheduling and billing) system. Mostly a SQL database.

    That is one of my concerns about having the server at the office, I am more concerned about the risk of theft or vandalism than environmental problems.

    I have those in place, the problem is one of network connectivity. With the slow speed of moving those 50GB image files around (days), I am limited to 'sneaker net', in this case portable HDs that carry the full-server backups.
     
  8. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down PoA Supporter

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    That "server ghetto" space doesn't sound HIPAA compliant, since you have patient records on the box. I believe you have to be able to prove all physical access to that machine is controlled. An open rack without a lock, is probably "right out" as the Brits would say.
     
  9. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    A controlled facility with escorted access only and the locked bezel and case on the server itself is probably more secured than 99% of doctors offices out there.