All of us rely on data centers for both work and play, even if we don’t realize it. Despite this, many of us don’t understand the mechanics of data centers, including how they work and why they’re so important for the modern era.
How exactly do data centers work? And what makes them so valuable?
Data Centers: The Basics
A data center is a physical building, or a portion of a physical building, dedicated to providing computing power to run applications and transmit data. Through data center networking, data centers can be orchestrated to send and receive information necessary for employees to do their jobs, and for consumers to get access to the services they need.
While many data centers share the same basic essential components, they can be used for a wide variety of different purposes. Data centers can store information, provide offsite computing power, transmit information, and more – lending themselves to virtually any digital application you can think of. Historically, data centers have been used as a resource exclusively dedicated to one company, providing resources to an internal team alone. These days, data centers are much more complex in their potential services and functionalities – and they continue to evolve as we gain access to new technologies and new business philosophies.
Data Center Components
Within a data center, you’re likely to find the following components and more:
· Core electronics. Data centers must have computing equipment necessary to carry out all the intended functions of the facility. These typically include racks of servers, hard drives, and other electronic equipment.
· Power. As you might imagine, data centers consume a lot of power. Not only do electronics demand significant resources, especially at scale, it’s also important to recognize that data centers need to remain up and running at all times, with few (if any) interruptions. Data centers need to be equipped with sources of clean and reliable power, along with backups in the form of uninterrupted power supplies (UPSs) and generators.
· Cooling. If you’ve ever used a laptop computer in your actual lap, you understand that electronics can get hot when left running for a long time. In a data center, the heat can get out of control if you don’t have cooling elements to control that heat. Many different types of cooling elements, including localized fans and liquids as well as high level designs that utilize airflow to carry heat away, allow data centers to continue operating efficiently.
· Network. All the electronic devices within a data center need to be interconnected, so they can send and receive information as efficiently as possible. Data centers also need to be connected to their users, whether their users are onsite or thousands of miles away.
· Physical security. Because data centers are somewhat vulnerable by default, data center planners also need to incorporate elements of physical security. Electronic devices need to be stored in a stable, rigidly protected manner, and the entire data center needs to be insulated from potential natural disasters and attacks. In the case of large data centers, security personnel are present at all times to oversee and protect the facility.
Types of Data Centers
There are several types of data centers in the modern era, based on how they’re constructed and how they’re used.
· Onsite. The earliest types of data centers were merely onsite data centers – and they’re still used somewhat frequently today. This type of data center is usually built on the property of a given organization, providing resources exclusively to the organization that built it. Today, onsite data centers are usually built for extra security or compliance reasons.
· Colocation. Colocation is a data center option that allows multiple people to take advantage of the same data center resources. In this arrangement, you’ll pay a fee in exchange for a portion of the existing physical infrastructure. It’s highly convenient, since you don’t have to build a data center of your own, but it does come with some drawbacks, like lack of control and less transparency, though you can visit it in person.
· IaaS. It’s also possible to gain data center functionality through infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Major providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft provide you with access to their cloud services virtually, in exchange for a subscription fee. No physical access is granted in this model.
· Hybrid. Hybrid models take advantage of many different types of cloud infrastructure simultaneously, balancing out their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Today, you’ll probably tap into the power of multiple different data centers without consciously thinking about it. The next time you check your email, tap into your company’s network, or even stream a video, take a moment to reflect on just how important data centers are for the modern world.