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What is a Data Center? 6 Types You Need to Know
By Tibor Moes / January 2023
What is a Data Center?
You no doubt want to solve your computing and storage issues with minimal investment and without affecting the productivity and uptime of your business operations. Working with a good data center is probably the most common solution.
But a few minutes of researching data centers likely overwhelmed you with information. It’s a hot topic and a complex one at that, especially in the business world. So, what is a data center, why would you need one, and which one is the best for your needs? We’ll reveal the answers and more below.
Summary: The simplest definition of a data center is a facility used to house data and applications with an infrastructure comprised of computing, storage, and network resource devices. Such components can include storage drives, servers, switches, routers, firewalls, other cyber security measures, etc. But unlike traditional data centers, modern data center locations and infrastructures are no longer limited to a physical location.
Tip: Data centers take great cybersecurity precautions. But have you done the same for your data? Protect your devices with modern antivirus software and your privacy with a leading VPN service.
Types of Data Centers
Data centers can vary in scope and size. A small business server room can qualify as a data center.
However, so can multiple dedicated buildings housing data center infrastructure.
That’s why a modern data center facility can be classified into different types.
Enterprise Data Centers
An enterprise data center is often built, managed, and used by a single company or organization.
These data centers help the companies run their networks, optimize workloads, improve communications, store important data, encrypt data transfers, etc.
Managed Service Data Centers
A managed service data center is quite the opposite. This type of data center can be just as large as its enterprise counterpart. The only difference being, it serves multiple clients.
Usually, a managed data center facility can offer various computer and storage services to companies and organizations while also taking care of the management and support aspects.
Hyperscale Data Centers
A hyperscale data center uses hyperscale computing and specialized infrastructures that minimize cooling and administrative costs while focusing on and maximizing its hardware.
Examples of this kind of date center include those provided by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many other tech giants.
Colocation Data Centers
A colocation data center works on a rental business model.
Any company or individual who needs space or resources associated with a data center can rent a colocation data center from a third party service provider.
Management might not necessarily be part of the deal.
Cloud Data Centers
A cloud data center, also called a distributed data center, takes full advantage of modern technology to eliminate the constraints of physical server locations.
While not all cloud data centers operate entirely virtually, many combine physical and cloud resources to offer the best of both worlds through a managed service provider.
Edge Data Centers
An edge data center is a small facility that may not have the best equipment but uses geographical positioning to resolve latency issues.
In essence, edge data centers are located near the edge of data sources and the network.
What Data Center Infrastructure Looks Like
Every data center, whether an enterprise data center, a small server room, or a modern cloud data center type, has a basic fundamental infrastructure.
The reason being, all data centers need three core components: storage, computing, and networks.
Let’s go over each of them before delving deeper into the topic.
Data Center Storage Components
A data center is often tasked with storing and protecting vast amounts of data. Therefore, the storage infrastructure has to be carefully designed to meet the needs of its owners or customers.
In addition to needing sufficient file storage and backup capacity, the storage infrastructure must be designed for maximum efficiency, fast access times, and security.
Data Center Computing Components
A data center provider takes computing seriously. Without good servers, organizations can’t optimize daily business operations and applications.
Without good servers, customers can’t rely on data centers to provide timely access to the necessary information or computing power.
Thus, the servers are arguably the most important computing components since they provide all the computing power.
These servers need a lot of processing power and memory to remain responsive and fulfill requests in a timely fashion.
This usually involves using CPUs designed for server-side tasks, built differently than consumer CPUs, and specializing in complex problem-solving algorithms.
It’s also worth noting that the same concept applies when cloud computing is involved.
Data Center Network Components
A data center network infrastructure typically involves the usual routers, cables, switches, and other devices that bridge the gap between the outside world and the servers inside a data server.
These are networks designed to handle immense traffic volume without sacrificing performance.
Of course, as a data center implements more cloud computing solutions, the network infrastructure may include additional virtual components to establish hybrid, secure connections.
Data Center Security Systems
The type of data center often determines the kind of security required.
Physical data centers need additional investment and equipment in this regard. For example, building security components like locks, cameras, guards, and others are important.
But other elements are necessary to ensure total protection as not all threats are physical.
Data center firewalls, IPS, API protection, and data access controls are just some of the components required to run a successful, high uptime data center facility.
These are crucial purchases when creating a data center.
However, it’s also essential to understand what security measures a data center service provider or cloud data center provider uses.
As an individual or organization, you need assurances that their storage, networks, and traffic have solid encryption, good firewalls, and scan routinely for breaches.
Another important note is scalability. As an organization grows, so will its need for resources. Therefore, it’s important to find a data center that offers scalability and can keep meeting your traffic, storage, and security demands.
What Is Support Infrastructure?
Every data center needs support infrastructure along with storage, network, computing, and security infrastructures.
After all, it’s a critical asset, especially when considering large enterprise data centers.
Support systems are classified into data center tiers.
A Tier I data center must provide basic capacity for uptime, which generally includes a reliable UPS device.
A Tier II support infrastructure needs to offer redundant capacity. This means ensuring uptime under various scenarios while adding redundant cooling and power.
Tier III infrastructures go even further with their design and equipment. In this classification, any element of the data center could be removed from the network without causing uptime issues.
A Tier IV support structure is arguably the dream ticket. This should be a proven fault tolerant system where the facility’s production capacity can’t fail.
It’s also known as a data center with zero single points of failure that shouldn’t be disrupted by any kind of event, including unforeseen events.
Depending on the data center tier, various types of power subsystems, backup generations, fire suppression, and cooling equipment is used to ensure nothing can compromise your data or block access to it.
Analyzing support systems is one of the best ways to differentiate between good data center infrastructure management and poor data center services or data center design.
It should be right up there with data center security.
Understanding the Various Roles of a Data Center
While most data centers are designed to manage traffic and vast amounts of data with minimal latency, they are particularly useful in a couple of scenarios.
A high volume of eCommerce transactions requires substantial computing power, data storage, and a solid network.
Data centers are the backbone of the eCommerce industry because they’re uniquely equipped to handle consistent traffic and data transfers.
Machine Learning and AI Processing
As previously mentioned, data centers use servers with different CPUs and configurations than regular computers.
Therefore, they’re ready to support advanced processing applications like those in the machine learning and AI fields.
Areas of business productivity that include running CRM or ERP software also need significant computing power.
For in-house business productivity, this is where cloud computing comes in handy.
It allows companies to optimize their workflow and maintain business operations without heavily investing in software or hardware equipment.
Due to recent technological advancements, companies don’t always need to use data centers for data processing power. Many tasks can be easily outsourced to third parties.
With that in mind, scaling through a data center is much easier and often safer because you can restrict access to your data only to trusted individuals or companies.
What Is Data Center Infrastructure Management?
One term you’ll come across a lot is data center infrastructure management or DCIM for short.
This is essential to any data center as it connects facilities and IT departments and helps coordinate management by leveraging transparency and automation.
Although it may sound complex, the concept is quite simple.
Instead of having to deal with multiple data centers, various facilities located in different geographical locations, and other inconveniences, everything is housed under the same roof.
DCIM acts as a master control platform for you or your service provider.
DCIM software can help maximize production by keeping track of outdated equipment and streamlining the addition of new components.
It can provide workflow automation by implementing smarter, more efficient processes and monitoring and measuring the results using quantifiable data.
Another benefit of DCIM implementation is its forecasting potential of both physical and cloud data center capabilities. This is most useful to companies looking to grow that need to ensure their data centers can scale with them at the same pace.
Furthermore, DCIM software can be used to consistently audit data center infrastructure. This can help you stay on top of data breaches, security vulnerabilities, support equipment failures, and redundancies in the workflow.
Ultimately, consistent auditing and generating comprehensive reports should help you stay compliant and minimize the risk of human error.
Understand Your Organization’s Needs Before Choosing a Data Center
Whether you need your own data center or you’d be better off using one of the large data centers managed by others isn’t for someone else to tell you.
You must understand your company’s needs before you can figure out if a cloud services provider or a physical infrastructure is best suited to handle your data.
Just remember that security and uptime are paramount at the end of the day. Low latency and massive computing power won’t compensate for lost data or restore your organization’s reputation when customers and clients can’t use your services or buy your products due to a network failure.
Learn what’s vital for your industry and your customers and use that knowledge to identify the best data center solution.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a Data Center do?
A data center is a physical facility or cloud solution for centralizing IT operations, storing, processing, and sharing data between various applications and systems.
Is a Data Center the same as a server?
A data server is not a server, but it can be called a server farm. The oldest forms of data centers were called server farms. Although they bear similarities with modern data centers, server farms are considered bare-bones by today’s standards as they offer little over accessibility and centralized control.
What is the best type of Data Center?
Data centers can be classified by service, size, infrastructure type, support systems, or uptime rating. As such, regardless of all other characteristics, the best type of data center is a fault-tolerant data center because it guarantees up to 99.995% uptime.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.
He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.
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