What Is a Data Center
One of the most vital elements for any organization is its data. Enterprises keep churning large volumes of data for their analysis and take important business decisions. The data stored in large enterprise locations are hosted in a dedicated space. This dedicated space can either be a physical one in the form of a room or a building with servers inside or virtual, known as a data center.
One function of any organization is IT operations, which is the backbone of an enterprise in today’s digital world. IT operations comprise various elements such as infrastructure for power supply, components for data communication connections, and various devices for security purposes.
Why data centers are important?
As indicated earlier, data is a vital asset of any business. Organizations have the arduous task of managing data and ensuring they adhere to various compliance as part of their data governance. Organizations must work business agility, and this can be achieved with information available on a real-time basis. Data centers house a large volume of transnational and non-transnational data, which organizations can access instantly. Hence, the role becomes even more pivotal.
If we have to put it in very simplified and realistic terms, every activity that a human being does is backed by the functioning of one or more data centers. Think of everything associated with us, such as energy, telecommunication, the internet, banks, entertainment, and even our social information, is stored in a large data center where millions of such information from people across the world are captured. From a common point of view, this might not be a significant factor, but from an organization’s point of view, they are constantly ensuring that the data stored in it are secure and at the same time available instantly.
Moreover, such large chunks of data can’t be stored in a small computer because a computer has its limitation when it comes to storage. Hence, it is important to have data centers where organizations can store huge volumes of data, and the same can be accessed/retrieved at any given point in time.
Role of the data center
Thanks to “digital transformation”, there is a constant vigilance and scrutiny of organizations on the way they conduct their business. Today, business hovers around storage of data, accessibility of data and security of data. Any laxity on these areas can be disastrous for companies.
Hence, companies need to look at it who can help them in achieve the three aforementioned objectives. Data centers of giants such as Facebook, Google, Amazon are not just limited to few servers. They are as big as size of football fields. The most pertinent question that companies should ask is the kind of centers they need based on which the role is defined. And this kind of center directly linked with the objective as indicated above.
For instance, if an organization is a small or mid-sized company that does not have any large volume of data but needs a place to storage documents and paperwork that happens across the board, then they can opt for storage systems that help in storage of documents and related data. This can be either a physical storage device or a virtual cloud-based storage system, with some basic features to store files and folders.
However, the moment you had a business application or finance application for storing key financial information, then its role becomes multi-faceted, where it will not only store data, but also ensure easily accessibility and retrieval of data.
Today, as more and more companies are trying to go remote (either forcefully due to pandemic or a strategic initiative), IT departments are under severe pressure to ensure functioning of all business systems efficiently by adopting flexible data center operations that is in line with their IT policies.
Types of data centers
As indicated earlier, its role is also related to their types. Let us look at some of the types. Classification is dependent up on various factors such as
- Is it owned by one company or are there multiple players?
- The topology of data centers in the family
- The technology stack used either for storage or for computing
- Energy efficiency
Based on these factors, we can look at the following types of data centers
Enterprise Data Centers
These kind are usually owned and operated by companies who are serving end customers/users. A majority of such enterprise are hosted within the premises of the organization.
There is a third-party company involved who is managing all data center operations on behalf of the said organization. The third-party is responsible for smooth functioning of all applications of the organization and take care of other elements such as data security, and back-up.
These are usually located outside the premises of organization. Colocation centers work on a multi-tenant model, where companies share the space with other organizations. This includes sharing of bandwidth, security, infrastructure.
Cloud Data Centers
These are again hosted outside the premises of organizations. They are primarily owned by global conglomerates such as Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure) or any other public cloud provider.
Data center requirements
While setting up a data center, there are some pre-requisites to be taken care of. Some of the hardware requirements for setting up are as follows:
Servers are the core of any data center. These are the components that store, analyse and transmit data. Within the server community, there are three types such as blade servers, rack servers and tower servers.
Server racks play a vital role in setting up of a data center. Usually it is often overlooked, which is why there are issues subsequently on housing of servers. These racks are primarily of two types – Open racks, which are mainly for easy handling, Cabinets are for more secured units.
There are primarily three types of cables – coaxial, twister and fiber optic cables, used to connect switches, storage devices & servers.
Over and above these components, you also need Switches, Storage devices, Power Supply equipment, Security Systems and Cooling Systems to set up a data center end-to-end. Final component in pre-requisites is the defining of policies and procedures on operating and maintenance.
Data center infrastructure standards
Standards mean best practices that are defined to ensure that they adhere to these practices and these are further trickled down to the organizations who use these data centers. We shall look at some of the best practices that are defined across the major types such as enterprise, colocation or cloud. When we talk about infrastructure standards, there are 3 big standards that are to be followed:
1. Uptime Institute’s (UI) Tier Standard
This is a performance drive method used during the design, construction and commissioning. It is defined across four tiers and rated across five different parameters as indicated in the table below; details of which can be found in the whitepaper of UI titled TUI3026E.
|Tier Rating||Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4|
|Active capacity components||N||N||N+1||N after failure|
|Distribution Paths||1||1||1 Active + 1 Alternate||2 Active|
2. ANSI/BICSI 002-2014
This particular standard takes care of design, construction and commissioning of MEP components along with fire protection, IT and maintenance. Ratings are usually defined by classes given in the range of 0 to 4.
3. ANSI/TIA 942-A 2014
This standard is pertaining to the telecommunication, IT cable and network oriented and has various concepts that are based on UI’s tier standard. These concepts are associated with infrastructure redundancy and reliability. It uses a table-based metric system to identify ratings for telecommunications, architectural, electrical, and mechanical systems. TIA provides a certification through dedicated providers.
Over and above the standards from these Big 3 there are others as well for effective data center management.
This is an international standard that is a reflection of UI, TIA and BCSI standards. It provides facility ratings on metrics of classes from 1 to 4. The standards can be further broken down into the following categories
- EN 50600-1 General concepts
- EN 50600-2-1 Building construction
- EN 50600-2-2 Power distribution
- EN 50600-2-3 Environmental control
- EN 50600-2-4 Telecommunications cabling infrastructure
- EN 50600-2-5 Security systems
- EN 50600-2-6 Management and operational information systems
Government regulations is completely dependent upon the nature of business and this includes standards such as HIPAA, SOX (Sarbanes Oxley) and other similar government norms.
How is a data center managed?
Management of a data center is not a simple job. It requires a set of highly skilled manpower who can look after both technical and IT related issues. Some of these activities include management of servers, computer applications, data services and applications and also ensuring the security of data.
Some of these tasks can be automated, which reduces human intervention, thereby bringing down the need for a person to be at the data center to perform those tasks. Here are some of the typical tasks performed by data center managers:
- Managing hardware & software operations and upgrading them
- Managing distribution and storage of data
- Ensuring backup processes are in place
- Contingency planning
- Tech Support
Frequently Asked Questions
While selecting a data center can always be a daunting task for any organization, however, one should get a clarity on some of the fundamental questions associated with data centers and data center providers. These FAQs can help any organization in addressing some of those areas; however these are indicative ones and you can keep adding more questions when you are in discussion with a service provider.
- Where is my data center located?
- Do you have redundant data centers?
- What happens when there is a power failure?
- How do you manage data backups?
- What is the uptime rate?
- What is your disaster recovery and failure management process?
- Elaborate your disaster recovery plan
- Do you conduct periodic audits of your data center to ensure compliance?
- Who can has access to the data center?
- Do I get access to my data any time?
To summarize, data centers have undergone a tremendous transition from large rooms to a completely virtual set up without any physical components. Data centers are always under a huge pressure, considering the quantum of data that is been churned. Moreover, due to the current pandemic situation, more and more services are going digital making the requirement of data centers inevitable.
However, a key element that every provider needs to look at is the flexibility both in terms of capacity as well as cost because organizations are trying to optimize the use of such data centers instead of investing heavily in it.