What is a Data Center?

3min. read

A data center is a facility that centralizes an organization’s shared IT operations and equipment for the purposes of storing, processing, and disseminating data and applications. Because they house an organization's most critical and proprietary assets, data centers are vital to the continuity of daily operations. Consequently, the security and reliability of data centers and their information are among any organization’s top priorities.

In the past, data centers were highly controlled physical infrastructures, but the public cloud has since changed that model. Except where regulatory restrictions require an on-premises data center without internet connections, most modern data center infrastructures have evolved from on-premises physical servers to virtualized infrastructure that supports applications and workloads across multi-cloud environments.

The Role of the Data Center

Data centers are an integral part of the enterprise, designed to support business applications and provide services such as:

  • Data storage, management, backup and recovery
  • Productivity applications, such as email
  • High-volume e-commerce transactions
  • Powering online gaming communities
  • Big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence

Today, there are reportedly more than 7 million data centers worldwide. Practically every business and government entity builds and maintains its own data center or has access to someone else's, if not both models. Many options are available today, such as renting servers at a colocation facility, using data center services managed by a third party, or using public cloud-based services from hosts like Amazon, Microsoft, Sony and Google.

The Core Components of a Data Center

Data center architectures and requirements can differ significantly. For example, a data center built for a cloud service provider like Amazon satisfies facility, infrastructure and security requirements that significantly differ from a completely private data center, such as one built for a government facility 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 the equipment it houses. In addition, since data centers often house an organization's business-critical data and applications, it's essential that both facility and equipment are secured against intruders and cyberattacks.

The primary elements of a data center break down as follows:

  • Facility – the usable space available for IT equipment. Providing round-the-clock access to information makes data centers some of the world’s most energy-consuming facilities. Design to optimize space and environmental control to keep equipment within specific temperature/humidity ranges are both emphasized.
  • Core components – equipment and software for IT operations and storage of data and applications. These may include storage systems; servers; network infrastructure, such as switches and routers; and various information security elements, such as firewalls.
  • Support infrastructure – equipment contributing to securely sustaining the highest availability possible. The Uptime Institute has defined four tiers of data centers, 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.
  • Operations staff – personnel available to monitor operations and maintain IT and infrastructure equipment around the clock.

Data centers have evolved significantly in recent years. As enterprise IT needs continue to move toward on-demand services, data center infrastructure has shifted from on-premises servers to virtualized infrastructure that supports workloads across pools of physical infrastructure and multi-cloud environments. There is an expression these days: The modern data center is where your workloads are.

Read Three Use Cases for Securing a Hybrid Data Center to learn more about the evolution of the data center as well as how to secure modern data centers and hybrid clouds.

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