These days, more and more companies are choosing colocation over building and maintaining their own in-house data center. The benefits of colocation are many — including reduced infrastructure costs, increased security, increased power capacity and redundancy as well as reliability and uptime.

But choosing the right data center partner is crucial. The stakes are high, as a downtime error can be costly. A survey from the Ponemon Institute found that the cost of downtime per minute is a whopping $7,900 — up 41% from figures in 2010.

For these reasons, it is important to be careful when selecting a data center. Rest at night comes a lot easier when your uptime is protected through a solid partner. For companies that haven’t chosen a data center before, there are certain requirements to keep in mind. If you don’t know what to ask, you can find yourself locked into a contract that doesn’t fit your business needs and can put your infrastructure and revenue at risk.

Reliability: Uninterrupted Uptime

The most important part of working with a data center is the comfort in knowing that you will never have to worry about your IT infrastructure going down. In fact, if things are going well with your data center, you likely won’t hear from them at all. They are busy working hard to maintain their uptime promises, and leaving clients to grow their businesses.

When looking at the most common causes of downtime there are two major factors at play – human error and equipment. Think about the myriad of possibilities that could go wrong at a data center. You are trusting your data center to keep every single piece of equipment maintained and running — from filtering the air from microdust that can damage your IT assets to keeping generators, chillers, cooling systems and more impeccably up and running. On top of that, you are trusting your data center to maintain uninterrupted critical systems uptime in the face of any type of disaster — be it a hurricane, earthquake, flood, fire, tornado or downed airplane. (There is a reason that most data centers aren’t located in the Florida Keys.)

And in the face of preparing for any disaster, it is the unexpected little things that can take a data center down. Yahoo! suffered downtime when squirrels chewed through wires in Santa Clara. A data center in Perth, Australia went down for an hour after smoldering mulch outside the building set off a smoke detector, likely the result of a cigarette butt.

With all this being said, clients should expect nothing less than 100% uptime and the documentation to prove it. That is what you are paying for. Rigorous processes and procedures can nearly eradicate the threat of human error, as can frequent and extensive staff training. Maintenance shouldn’t be about fixing a problem after it occurs, but rather paying such close attention to equipment that potential threats are detected and addressed before they happen.

Customer Service: Professional Care

Your data center’s employees should serve as your eyes and ears to your equipment – and your hands, if need be.

Imagine that you’re out on New Year’s Eve, counting down the minutes to the New Year with close friends and family. You check on your equipment online and notice that your servers appear to be overheating, and your data center is across town almost 45 minutes away. You need answers now, and you don’t want to disappoint your wife and be away working when the clock strikes twelve.

This is where your data center should come in. There should be a knowledgeable staff available 24/7/365 to help you in situations just like these. A Network Operations Center should be monitoring systems in order to mitigate any potential problems and to enact preventative maintenance. By making a quick call, staff should be able to discuss, address, and remedy the issue over the phone.

Whether it is a call to help solve a problem, being an extra set of hands when needed, or answering your questions when you need assistance, data center staff should support you. Don’t be afraid to demand more in this area, and ask the tough questions when interviewing potential data centers.

Security: Assurance My Information is Safe

Believe it or not, in Denmark, thieves cut a hole through a data center wall and walked off with several networking cards. The motivation of the theft was unknown.

This example brings several questions to mind. How did thieves cut through a wall? How did they get in and out undetected? Why wasn’t security staff aware? What was stolen and how did that hurt the customer?

This is an extreme and unusual example, but it is also true. Client information is valuable and sensitive, and security is an important component of your data center partnership.

Security should be multi-layered and require multiple points of two-factor authentication along with biometric scanning at every colocation room door. All parties entering and exiting the building should be documented. Cameras should monitor the data center and serve as an additional security measure. And most of all, a robust and well-trained security staff should be on hand to ensure the safety of client assets.

Be a Partner, Not a Competitor

Data center clients also include businesses that provide managed services — cloud and IT services. Many data centers may also provide these services, and bundle them into contracts, forcing clients to compete with their data center or pay more for services that they don’t need. While the bundles are great for clients who need them, it can be a sore point for customers who don’t.

Data centers receiving your colocation business should be flexible and tailor the contract to your company needs without conflict. If they won’t compromise in this area, move on.

There are data centers who don’t force bundled services, and rather just stick to colocation. In this sense, a data center that doesn’t compete with clients can make things easier, and also offer a business opportunity for clients.

Transparency: Proof of SLA

A data center is only as good as its service level agreements (SLAs), which should center around processes, technology, and people. But an SLA isn’t worth anything if a data center can’t prove whether or not it is being fulfilled. All SLAs should have a firm unit of measurement to ensure they are adhered to. Be sure to read the fine print. Are maintenance windows taken into account when determining uptime?

One way to provide complete transparency regarding equipment status and uptime is to allow real-time visibility into your data center environment. Given that no one can be present all day to monitor their equipment on site, the only feasible answer is to provide an online login that feeds into the data center infrastructure management and provides critical information.