A data center is the powerhouse of a company. Think of a data center as a large warehouse that stores all the company’s digital information. For every single action a company makes, data is sent to a warehouse and archived. The data center is necessary for storing large amounts of data and gives companies the flexibility to keep their information safe and protected from natural/manmade disasters such as floods, storms and terrorist threats. Data centers are vital for a company’s continuity of daily operations – much like a heart and liver are needed to operate the human body.
Who is using a data center? Any company of significant size will likely have a data center to store their information. Depending on the size, a company may utilize one data center or several data centers, located in multiple regions.
Who is contributing to the need for these companies to have data centers? Everyone. Here’s an example. When you go and purchase a drink at your favorite coffee shop, you can pay with cash, a debit/credit card or maybe even a mobile app. No matter the form of payment, your purchase amount is first processed through the coffee shop’s ledger and then sent on to a banking system. In one transaction, the data related to your purchased item may be sent to multiple data centers. And say, while at the coffee shop, you snap a photo of you and some friends. This photo is uploaded to the cloud or a popular social media site. Your files are being saved to a data center somewhere. Every second of the day, someone is using a data center to store digital information.
What are the different types of data centers? As we mentioned earlier, a data center is the powerhouse of a company; a place that stores digital information. In the technical world, a data center is called a department in an enterprise (in our example, a warehouse) that houses and maintains computer systems called mainframes, servers and databases. These back-end information technology (IT) systems support back-office applications like collecting input from users and processing the information.
In the days of large, centralized IT operations, this department and all the back-end IT systems resided in one physical place, hence the name data center. Even though the name is commonly used, not all data centers are created equal.
Hyperscale data centers are made for enormous companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Companies that need to provide computing on a massive scale, requiring at least 5,000 servers and 10,000-sf of available space. These companies often build their own equipment to deal with specific needs of their digital information requirements.
Enterprise data centers may consist of multiple data centers, each with a duty of performing key functions for the company. So, our favorite coffee shop might rely on several data centers for their operations. An internal data center would support servers and devices necessary for performing e-commerce web applications. An external data center might support all the coffee shop’s business-to-business transactions and a cloud/colocation/hybrid data center might support the shop’s internal business functions for manufacturing, marketing, HR, research and development, payroll and other core business units.
Because data is distributed through different computing methods, hyperscale and enterprise data center sites are becoming less common in the version described above. However, the term data center continues to be used to refer to the department in an enterprise that has responsibility for these back-end IT systems, no matter how dispersed they are.
Market and industry trends are changing the way enterprises approach their data center strategies. Several factors are driving enterprises to look beyond traditional technology infrastructure silos and transform the way they view their data center environment and business processes. These include aging data center infrastructures that are at risk for not meeting future business requirements, the costs of housing and maintaining systems, and the need to be more energy efficient.
In some cases, companies who own a data center allow other companies to co-locate or rent space within their data center. These companies called colocation providers will rent space to customers and allow them to install their own IT equipment. Customers who rent space are provided with power, bandwidth, IP address and cooling systems to help them successfully deploy their equipment. This option gives companies full control of their equipment without having to own additional real-estate.
Several data center providers have specialized in providing ‘edge’ data centers, which are catered to the end-users and provide similar technology services to the larger, hyperscale data centers, but are scaled appropriately. The reality is that most companies are keeping at least some data center capacity in-house but may be outsourcing some of the more complicated and expensive tasks elsewhere. A hybrid or combination of data centers may be a better fit depending on the company size and needs.
When is information used and collected? Easy … all the time! Data centers are ongoing. Think 365 days, every single second of the day, a data center is being used to process and store information.
Where are data centers located? Data centers are located anywhere, however, there are some hot spots (Northern Virginia, Dallas and the United Kingdom). Locations vary and depend on the company’s size and needs. Infrastructure must be in place to ensure power can easily be supplied to the site. Remember data centers need to be operated 24/7. The U.S. market is better positioned to accommodate data centers than foreign markets where surrounding infrastructure/utilities are weaker. While power and connectivity appear to be primary concerns, location, natural hazards and other factors are also considered such as nearby airports, major highway locations, transit options, soil type and constructability, weather hazards, etc. No site is perfect, but companies look at many different parameters when choosing a location.
Why is there a need for data centers? During the last several years the demand for data, how data is moved, and at what speed, has grown rapidly. The use and need for this data has also become more universal. We as humans are more reliant on technology – sending and receiving data to do everyday things. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand exponentially, technology is advancing and making anything with an on and off button accessible to the internet. Your fridge, home security, your car, music, e-books and phones are all connected, making everything a contributor to the growth of data center needs.
Further, companies like having control of where their data is going. Remember our previous example of a local coffee shop selling coffee? Businesses do not want to have to explain to their customers that they cannot purchase items because their system is down, or their network got invaded by malware.
How has the cloud changed data centers? Taking things to the cloud doesn’t mean data centers are gone. Behind every cloud is a data center. Think of a cloud as a tool to use IT applications – a good enabler for a smaller company that might not otherwise have the resources of a larger company. Cloud computing is not just limited to personal emails or storage capacity. The examples of cloud usage are everywhere from popular social media apps to audio and video streaming services. Data center infrastructure now extends beyond the brick and mortar walls to public clouds. Data that was once considered too sensitive to leave the building is now hosted at an off-site location.
Data centers look far different than they did just a decade ago, but the job of a data center is still the same: to collect, store, process, distribute or allow access to large amounts of data. Data centers have existed in one form or another since the advent of computers (founded by IBM in 1911). As data center infrastructure and technology continues to evolve, companies can plan, and consultants can help.
By combining innovative design with superior construction, GBA and GBA Builders can solve even the most complex challenges. Our design and construction services are always geared towards aligning ourselves with the most recent innovations in the data center industry.