The Logic behind Colocating Your Database Servers

The COVID-19 pandemic is dynamically changing the way businesses use technology. Now more than ever, companies need to make their resources available to an exponentially increasing remote work force. One common type of resource used by companies daily are databases. A database is an organized collection of data stored and accessed via multiple interfaces that allows users, software, and even the database itself to capture and analyze data. Although you may not overtly see the databases used day-to-day, they are there. Popular software titles such as Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, SalesForce, QuickBooks, and many others, all leverage databases to bring you relevant data as efficiently as possible.

So, what does this look like with a remote workforce? Traditionally, many databases were designed to be used on-premise (inside of a private domain) where security could be implemented to protect the data in the database. Also, most local area networks inside of organizations have been running at Gigabit speeds for at least the past decade. This meant that multiple users could access a database simultaneously and have little impact on the overall network performance. The only network traffic leaving an organization was typically email and web browsing. In such an environment, organization only required minimal bandwidth to the outside world which commonly came in service ranging from 10Mbps to 100Mbps. With such limited bandwidth, the sudden shift of employees working from home over VPN connections quickly saturates the company’s circuit and slows-down access to vital databases that are used to perform their everyday tasks.

There are probably as many solutions to this problem as there are stars you can see in the sky, but what we will discuss in the ensuing paragraphs here is one of the most common, cost effective, and easiest to implement solutions employed by IT professionals every day: Colocation.

The term “colocation” comes from the present active infinitive root of the Latin word “collocāre,” meaning “I place, put, put together, assemble.” Circa the early 1950’s, the term evolved to describe a service that allowed multiple companies to locate network, server, and storage devices in a shared location and connect to them via network service providers, at a minimum cost and complexity. The concept behind colocation facilities was to share the cost of robust bandwidth and space to provide better, faster access to applications (in our case, databases) being accessed from multiple branch locations of a single company.

With the advent of COVID-19, companies that existed completely in one location were abruptly forced into a multi-branch business model; each branch being an employee now working from home. Each branch now trying to access the same database via the company’s measly 100Mbps broadband connection from their own 100Mbps broadband connection. To visualize this, imagine a tug-o-war where on one end of the rope you have a single 6’ tall – 200lb person pulling against ten 6’ tall – 200lb persons on the other end. To even things out, we would need an 8’ tall- 800lb gorilla to replace the single person on the first end of the rope. While there is still a net mismatch between the two ends of the rope, imagine now that not all ten persons on the other side are not pulling at the same time. In this visualization, the colocation center is the 800lb gorilla. Colocation centers generally offer network service provided by multiple carriers in speeds ranging 10Gbps to 100Gbps. Most of these, when provisioned by the colocation center, burst far above the measly 100Mbps connection that the company has at their main office and can easily accommodate multiple users at the same time.

Keeping the visualization above in mind, let’s move our database and VPN servers over where we have the 800lb gorilla working for us. As eluded to earlier, this is one of the quickest, easiest, and cost-effective solutions to quickly give remote users fast and reliable access to the database they need. But the question remains: “Why is this quick, easy, and cost-effective?”

The simple answer to this question is: “It is because you are not re-inventing the wheel.” In this scenario, we are simply moving our hardware (servers) to a place with higher bandwidth and recreating the connections to them. Once the space in the colocation center has been leased, this can usually be done with existing network devices or at the least with the purchase of an inexpensive router/firewall and switch. With proper planning, the downtime can be very little by comparison to the inefficiency experienced by the remote workers trying to access the database at the main office.

Speaking more as to why this is considered “easy,” is the comparison of migrating your database to a different platform whether it be in a colocation center or cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. Generally, migration to a different platform such as Microsoft Azure requires a shift in ideology of how you think about your IT infrastructure as discussed in our article on Digital Transformation. Shifting ideology is already difficult for an individual let alone an organization, and the steps involved with migrating a database to a cloud-based Microsoft Azure platform involves significantly more than just moving a database. Also, the concept of a cloud-based platform is far less tangible for most companies than something familiar as a rack and server in a colocation center.

While the COVID-19 pandemic represents a grand opportunity for businesses to Digitally Transform, undertakings on such a scale may not be economically viable for many companies due to the complexity, resources, and time it takes to move to a new way of using technology. And while most would view collocating your database servers as a temporary band-aid solution, it is nonetheless a tried and true solution that has been in use for decades. Are your databases ready for your remote work force? If you can’t quickly answer this question, give us a call and we can help answer this question for you!