Data Centers

How to Pick a Data Center

ServInt announced some of its biggest news in quite some time last week: the opening of ServInt EU and our new Amsterdam data center. As we continue to take preorders and prepare the full-scale launch, we’ve gotten a few questions from customers who are having trouble choosing between ServInt DC, ServInt LA and ServInt EU.

So how are customers supposed to pick data center locations?

All other things being equal, choosing between the data centers that your chosen web host offers is all about latency: the time it take data to travel between a server and an end user. Your choice in data center location should focus on minimizing latency so that your applications and web pages load faster on your customers’ computers.

There are two main factors that determine latency:

  1. the physical distance between your server and your customers
  2. the quality of the network (both in robustness and complexity) between your server and your customers

Where are your customers?

The first question to ask when looking at latency is, how far are your customers from your proposed data centers? Many new web hosting customers make the mistake of choosing a data center close to themselves, but unless you live in the same general region as your customers, you want to choose a data center close to them regardless of where your business is located.

And by close, we don’t mean that the data center needs to be in the same city as your customers. But trying to find a data center on the same part of the continent as your customers — or directly adjacent — can be helpful.

That was the theory with opening the ServInt EU data center. Located in Amsterdam, ServInt EU offers excellent connectivity to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Until now, our international customers have had to push traffic across an ocean if they wanted to enjoy ServInt’s award-winning products and customer service.

Know where your customers are, and look for data centers in that region.

When geography isn’t enough.

There are times when the closest data center does not necessarily have the fastest connection to your customers. This is usually due to lack of network infrastructure within or between two regions for economic, geo-political or geographic reasons, but it can also be due to inefficient routing by network providers. We see cases every day of ServInt clients, whose customers are in the Asia Pacific region, choosing our ServInt LA data center because our network offers them faster speeds to their customers than any of their local providers.

Test the latency of your network using a data center speed test.

Fortunately, testing latency is simple for most hosts. Every good web host should have a data center speed test of some sort where you can test the latency (ping time) as well as upload and download speeds.

Test ServInt’s data center speeds.

This is especially important when you have a host picked out, but the geographically closest data center is not obvious. For example, ServInt clients with most of their customers in the middle of the United States have to decide between locating their server in DC or LA. Running our speed test tool from the location of most of your customers can quickly show which data center is best for your needs.

Remember, when using a speed test tool, latency (ping time) is the most important of the three numbers to consider.

Your upload and download speeds will be throttled by your Internet provider well before you reach the capacity of most networks or your web host’s data center. Think of ping time as how fast data moves, while upload/download speeds represent how much data can move through the connection in a given time.

If, like most ServInt clients, you serve customers across a wide geographic area, using speed tests can be even more useful. If half your customers are in Europe and the rest are spread over the US and Canada, should you choose ServInt DC, LA, or EU for your data center?

Don’t be afraid to get on Facebook and track down a couple of international friends who can help you out. It may sound silly, but having a few friends who live near your customers test network speeds to the data centers you are considering can give you some very valuable data on the relative speeds to one facility versus another.

You may find that the differences are minor enough that data center choice is a toss up. Or, you might find there is a big difference in the latency to a data center from different regions. In this case, gauge what percentage of your customers would likely be connecting from where.

One final thought: don’t just consider where your current customers are located, think about where your future customers live.

And as always, if you give this a try and are still having trouble deciding, feel free to contact us. We’ll be able to walk you through your choices and help you decide which data center is right for you.

photo by Steinar Johnsen

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