The world of data centers has grown dramatically in the ten years since the business was invented. Sure, there have always been computing centers where you could rent processing power. Going all the way back to the days of punch cards and huge data reading systems that milled through all the cards with holes in them, there were services you could pay for when you needed data crunched on a large scale.
Things are a little different today, but in some ways the same. Today the big need most people have is to host a website. There are still some who need massive processing power, but those are mostly companies who can build their own data centers. For the average consumer or small business person, the need is for a website, email, perhaps a database server or other application server. This is where the colocation hosting industry comes in.
Today there are many companies who are in the business of building and running data centers only to provide hosting services to individuals and businesses. Colocation hosting means that you have a server in someone else’s facility. There are several flavors. In the simplest version, you rent space in a server rack but you actually own the server. In this model, the owner of the hosting center doesn’t really touch your computer. They provide you bandwidth, power, and an appropriate environment (air conditioning, fire suppression, physical security).
Other versions include actually renting the server from the colocation company. And it gets even more complicated than that. With the introduction of virtualization several years ago, hosting companies are able to actually sell you a portion of a server. Using this method, they charge you based on the size and processing capabilities of the virtual machine. This allows them to sell parts of a server to several different customers. Each operating system installation has no idea that there are other virtual computers on the same hardware.
So in some ways, the world of colocation hosting and virtual servers brings us full circle to the days of the punch card. You are, again, paying for processing power. However, this time it is measured in terms of ram, ghz and gb of disk space rather than CPU time or cards read. But if you still want to keep it simple, you can simply rent a space and slide your server into a rack and call it a day.