What is a Data Center?
A data center is a facility that centralizes an organization’s IT operations and equipment, as well as where it stores, manages, and disseminates its data. Data centers house a network’s most critical systems and are vital to the continuity of daily operations. Consequentially, the security and reliability of data centers and their information is a top priority for organizations.
Although data center designs are unique, they can generally be classified as internet-facing or enterprise (or “internal”) data centers. Internet-facing data centers usually support relatively few applications, are typically browser-based, and have many users, typically unknown. In contrast, enterprise data centers service fewer users, but host more applications that vary from off-the-shelf to custom applications.
Data center architectures and requirements can differ significantly. For example, a data center built for a cloud service provider like Amazon® EC2 satisfies facility, infrastructure, and security requirements that significantly differ from a completely private data center, such as one built for the Pentagon that is dedicated to securing classified data.
Regardless of classification, an effective data center operation is achieved through a balanced investment in the facility and equipment housed. The elements of a data center break down as follows:
Facility – the location and “white space,” or usable space, that is available for IT equipment. Providing round-the-clock access to information makes data centers some of the most energy-consuming facilities in the world. A high emphasis is placed on design to optimize white space and environmental control to keep equipment within manufacturer-specified temperature/humidity range.
Support infrastructure – equipment contributing to securely sustaining the highest level of availability possible. The Uptime Institute defined four tiers data centers can fall under, with availability ranging from 99.671% to 99.995%. Some components for supporting infrastructure include:
- Uninterruptible Power Sources (UPS) – battery banks, generators and redundant power sources.
- Environmental Control – computer room air conditioners (CRAC), heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and exhaust systems.
- Physical Security Systems – biometrics and video surveillance systems.
IT equipment – actual equipment for IT operations and storage of the organization’s data. This includes servers, storage hardware, cables and racks, as well as a variety of information security elements, such as firewalls.
Operations staff – to monitor operations and maintain IT and infrastructural equipment around the clock.
Data centers have evolved significantly in recent years, adopting technologies such as virtualization to optimize resource utilization and increase IT flexibility. As enterprise IT needs continue to evolve toward on-demand services, many organizations are moving toward cloud-based services and infrastructure. A focus has also been placed on initiatives to reduce the enormous energy consumption of data centers by incorporating more efficient technologies and practices in data center management. Data centers built to these standards have been coined “green data centers.”