Buying a conventional website hosting package allows customers to rent space on a server owned by a hosting provider, and located in a third-party data centre. These are good value and easy to access, but you don't get full control over the hardware and how it's set up. Even dedicated server plans force you to choose from what can sometimes be very few canned options.
Colocation hosting is a service where customers just rent space in a data centre, and use that to host a server they own. This gives them complete control over the hardware and software configuration, while also ensuring the server has a more reliable infrastructure (power, cooling, fire, security) and better connectivity than they would get by hosting in-house.
Hosting your hardware in another location does introduce some issues. If you need physical access to the server, you'll probably have to make an appointment before travelling to the data centre; hardly convenient. If that could be an issue, make sure you choose a host with a nearby location to minimise any hassles.
Colocation plans can vary considerably in price, depending on the amount of space and power you need. Space can be defined in rack units (U) of 1.75-inches each, or sometimes as a quarter (about 10U), half (20U) or full rack (42U) – the comparison tables of each host will tell you more.
Other issues to consider include the IP addresses you'll get, the network bandwidth, data transfer allowance, and the level of support the host can provide.
Comparing colocation hosts is difficult, as the best companies will vary according to your needs, but in this article we've highlighted five capable UK providers to help you get started.
Netcetera is an experienced web host that has been providing data centre solutions for more than 20 years to businesses all around the world.
The company's Isle of Man-based data centre may not be the most convenient place to colocate your server, but it does provide reliable power, high security, and support to handle reboots, upgrades, backups, restores and other essential maintenance tasks.
As a surprise green bonus, a carbon offsetting scheme means Netcetera's data centre is 100% carbon-neutral.
Colocation prices start at just £35 per month for a single server with 1U to 5U and 0.5 amp power. Connectivity is relatively basic – just 500GB per month on a 100Mbps port – but you do get 5 IP addresses, setup is free, and, in a very generous move, there's unlimited Remote Hands support.
Netcetera also offers quarter, half and full rack plans priced from £300, £500 and £900 per month. Bandwidth is a chargeable extra, but this does allow you to define more precisely what you'll need, a flexible approach which could save you money overall.
Founded in 2005, Netwise Hosting is an experienced provider with its own data centre in central London, and partner centres in Docklands, Manchester, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Stockholm.
Colocation plans start at just £49 a month. This only gets you a minimal 1U of space, 0.5 amps conditioned power and a single IP address, but your data transfer allowance is reasonable at a monthly 1TB.
Netwise Hosting clearly believes in choice, because that's just the start. You also get 2U and 4U plans, as well as quarter, half or full rack space (all lockable for extra security), and multi-rack options are available if you need them.
There are plenty of advanced options here. Are you using MPLS (Multi Protocol Label Switching) to connect your systems, for instance? Netwise Hosting can support L2 and L3.
The company also provides a very complete set of colocation services, including migrating your server from another location, racking equipment for you, managing systems or providing 24/7 support.
If you're unsure about the options, the website has a Colocation Calculator where you're able to choose the plans and features you need, and get a price right away.
Zen Internet is best known as one of the UK's first ISPs, having been providing web access to the masses since 1995. But the company uses its networking expertise to support other services, too, including colocation in its Greater Manchester data centre.
Simple shared rack plans were priced from £59 a month, with 1U of rack space, 0.5 amps of power, and your choice of a data transfer allowance or an allocation of fixed bandwidth allowance. Now, you pay a monthly cost based on how much space, power and bandwidth you require and you'll need to get in touch with them for further information.
Still, you are covered by a generous service level agreement which guarantees 100% power availability, 99.999% for network and 99.97% HVAC (heat, ventilation and air conditioning), with a one hour 'at rack' guarantee in the event of any problems.
If any issues crop up, Zen's Remote Hands support service can check status indicators, reset or reboot your hardware, replace circuit patch leads and patch panel connections, and even change hot-swappable components, if you've provided spares. You get up to a generous five Remote Hands sessions a month, each lasting up to one hour – some hosts might restrict you to a single session of just 30 minutes.
Claranet is a top European provider with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering managed IT services to businesses around the world.
The company manages multiple data centres, with five available for colocation. Your London options are Global Switch London East, Telecity Harbour Exchange Square and Telecity Sovereign House, and there are also centres in Hoddesdon (Hertfordshire) and Manchester.
Claranet doesn't try to compete with others for the lowest advertised price (in fact, it doesn't advertise a price at all – you have to contact the company and ask for a quote). There are no almost useless 1U plans, for instance: you must choose a quarter, half or full rack.
Still, there's plenty to like here. Cabinets are all lockable to keep your hardware secure. Flexible power options ensure you get exactly what you need. You're able to access your server 24/7. There are flexible contracts available from a minimum of 30 days, with some benefits if you opt for longer terms (you get free installation if you sign up for three years). Well worth a look if you'd prefer to colocate with a big-name provider.
Colocation is often marketed as a high-end hosting solution for big corporations only, but the reality is very different. Even the smallest business can benefit from the extra speed and control you might get with a colocation plan, and if you choose the right provider, low prices and contracts as short as a month allow almost anyone to try the service out.
Fast2host won't be the most convenient colocation host for everyone. It only has a single data centre in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. Customers with lesser plans (1U-3U) don't get 24/7 access to their hardware, and standard Remote Hands support is limited to a miserly 45 minutes a month (30 minutes for 1U-3U), even for full rack plans.
On the plus side, Fast2host offers real value, especially with the starter plans. 1U of rack space gets you 0.8 amps of power, rather than the 0.5 amps typically provided elsewhere. The data transfer allowance is a generous 1.2TB a month. ICMP and HTTP monitoring, often an optional extra with other providers, comes for free here. A 100% SLA on power and 99.99% SLA on network availability will be good enough for most users, yet all this can be yours from as little as £45 a month.
If you need more, Fast2host's website makes it very easy to explore your options. There's no bulky comparison tables, and the company doesn't force you to contact them to get a quote: just click a plan (1U-5U, quarter, half or full rack), then you can instantly view the details and place your order in a couple of clicks.
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