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You may be curious about how to start up a community colocation facility of your own. We'd love to help you! Join our mailing list by sending a message to [email protected].

Step one: find other interested people in your area.
No matter how motivated you think you are, you're going to run out of steam unless you have a group of people around who are really passionate about the idea of setting up a community colocation facility. Find other technology-oriented non-profits in your area, grab a few of your friends, etc., but get a core group together of at least 2-5 folks who want to colocate a box. Establish a clear vision for what you're doing, or you'll end up hosting a dozen Counterstrike clans and your bandwidth bills will go through the roof without any contributions being made; you'll quickly go broke.

Step two: find a suitable host
You probably don't want to actually set up your own facilities. That could take hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, you want to host within an existing colocation facility. Find some local colocation providers and talk with them. Beat them over the head about your vision (which should generally involve focusing on offering services to the not-for-profit world) and eventually you'll get one to get you a reasonable deal. Ping the list if you're not sure what "a reasonable deal" is. You should probably start with at least half a rack of space and 5 servers when you move in to get reasonable monthly cost-per-person.

Be careful in picking your ISP. Questions you want to ask: will all of your clients have 24/7 onsite access? (You need this.) Can you call up 24/7 and have someone reboot a box? Are their security measures reasonable? Do they have clean power, with not only UPS's good for a few hours but also backup generators? How are they connected to the Net? Take some time to ping servers on their network from a few different locations and compare to pinging our site or Google. Run some traceroutes and see if they look reasonable at different points in the day. Ask them if you'll be going through Cogent or anything like it. (You do NOT want this; your bandwidth will end up routing through Washington, D.C., and will be superlaggy with lots of lost packets.)

Step three: incorporate
At this point, you almost certainly want to either become a 501(c)(3) non-profit yourselves or to come online underneath an existing one, such as we did with the Online Policy Group. You could also incorporate as a co-op if you wanted to. But don't just be an informal project, or you open yourself up to massive personal liability. You like having a car, don't you?

Step four: move-in
At this point you have the 5+ servers you want to colocate in hand, are incorporated, and have a good ISP in mind. Time to actually move them in, sign the contract, and open up. Let us know! Get the word out by posting to local technology/non-profit groups.

Step five: scale
Your first few months may require you to throw in a few hundred or even few thousand of your own cash as people warm up to the idea of donating to you. Make sure to make donating easy - use NetworkForGood to take credit cards. Accept PayPal. List an address to which to send checks or drop off bundles of cash. :)

Set up a trouble ticket system like RequestTracker to handle walking through interested parties in getting colocated with you. Set up mailing lists for your clients and for a core operations team of volunteers that are helping you. Be very picky about your core operations team - assign responsibilities slowly, informally, gradually building up mutual trust. Surprisingly enough, doing elections or handing out titles has a strongly negative effect in a casually-structured organization. Don't bother with them. Let people who are useful just be useful, but remember, you can't fundamentally count on anyone coming through for you, since it's all volunteer. Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised instead when people do things and publicly congratulate them.

Set up tools to monitor your bandwidth, such as MRTG. Set up alarms to let you know when you're going over your bandwdith limits. Set up a password-protected operations wiki that lets your team consolidate all of its management information in one place.

Make sure you make every new client consent to Terms of Service. Ideally provide a privacy policy so clients know what you're doing with their information. Make sure you DO collect 2+ email addresses and 2+ phone numbers for each account, and make sure that at least one email address is not hosted on the box they're colocating - otherwise emailing them about a box being down becomes rather pointless.

Give every piece of hardware in your facility a unique moniker and very clearly label it in both front and back. At CCCP, for instance, a new client will get a number and will have their box be labelled "CLIENT 156". This makes it very easy to unambiguously refer to equipment. Every piece of hardware needs to have a unique designation: your switches, your servers, everything.

Your switches must be managed 1U/2U rackmount switches, preferably from Cisco, since there are a lot of people around who know how to manage them. A managed switch lets you see who is using what bandwidth. This is absolutely critical. If you start pushing out 5mbps more bandwidth than usual, you need the ability to quickly see which client is generating that bandwidth. Otherwise, it's just a shot in the dark, or a trip to the colo to see which port light is blinking most vigorously. It's actually preferable if your switches are 10baseT for the downlinks to clients (with an 100mbps uplink), as this automatically caps clients at 10mbps, keeping any one server from blowing the top off of your badwidth limits, while having an 100mbps uplink keeps clients from interfering with each other's traffic.

Set up reverse DNS for the subnet. Allocate more IPs than you think you need - you'll be growing quickly. Try to get a Class C (256 addresses), or at least a /25 CIDR (128 addresses). They'll go fast.

Step six: sustain
You'll want to fundraise. Email clients and write grant proposals. Make a list of the websites you host. Approach clients and ask them for testimony. Include this. Network and get the word out. Put testimony on your wall to keep things going.

As you continue to grow, your per-box costs continue to plummet, making the venture more and more sustainable as it grows. Beware gamers, pirates, or people trying to stream video or audio, as they will nail your bandwidth. Make it clear that bandwidth is a community resource. Encourage people to be proactive in limiting and reducing their bandwidth with compression, efficient site coding, judicious use of "Expires" headers and more - these changes will also make their sites load more quickly!
We provide free colocated Internet access to individuals and non-profits. If you represent a not-for-profit endeavor that seeks to have a web presence, an email account, or a rackmount server of your own, we'd love to help you!
We Need You To Help Us
Check Out Our 'Why CCCP' Page
You do not need to be an official non-profit organization to use our services, but you cannot be running any sort of a for-profit service. Fundraising, however, is okay. Join our mailing list if you're hosting with us or want to help out! If you're curious about hosting, send mail to [email protected] with your questions!
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