What Is a Data Center?
November 07, 2023
With 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated daily,1 a reliable, secure IT infrastructure is more critical now than ever. Data centers give businesses the space and power needed to meet growing demands, so it’s no surprise that spending on data center systems worldwide is expected to hit $222 billion this year.2
Data centers are facilities used to store, manage, and disseminate data. The term “data center” includes all the components that support an organization’s computing infrastructure, including hardware, applications, power systems, and more.
In Canada, data centers are playing a big role in supporting the digital transformation of businesses nationwide. The workload capacity of the Canadian data center market is expected to reach more than 1,159 MW by 2029.3 This focus on data center growth in Canada means companies that need more capacity but lack the funds or ability to manage an on-site data center can still find the space needed to meet their unique networking, data storage, computing needs, and more.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about data centers, including the types, components, and standards below.
How Have Modern Data Centers Evolved?
Data centers have come a long way since the early days of computing. Modern business needs have driven rapid advances in data center technology, infrastructure, and management. Here’s how data centers have evolved over the years:
Early data centers in the 1960s and 70s were small server rooms dedicated to housing early computer systems, known as mainframes. These server rooms were typically managed by a company’s in-house IT staff and were designed around mainframe power, cooling, and floor weight requirements.
In the 1980s and ’90s, client-server computing distributed processing across networks, with servers handling shared applications and files. Businesses shifted to more open, modular data centers rather than specialized mainframe rooms. IT teams implemented raised floors, enhanced cooling, and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to handle growing power demands, transforming data centers into interconnected hubs that linked users to critical enterprise systems and data.
The internet boom of the late ’90s brought surging bandwidth and data storage needs. This led to the rise of large enterprise data centers, which are specialized facilities equipped with redundant power, advanced cooling systems, and strong security measures to ensure high availability and data protection.
Virtualization technology transformed data centers in the 2000s by enabling multiple virtual machines (VMs) to run on one physical server. Hyperconverged infrastructure further integrated computing, data storage, and networking into compact building blocks, significantly improving resource utilization and flexibility.
The Cloud Today
Cloud computing has been the latest shift for data centers, introducing the concept of off-site, scalable, and pay-as-you-go data center resources. Data center providers offer colocation facilities in various locations, enabling businesses to deploy applications and data to wherever makes the most sense without the high costs of building and maintaining their own data center.
Types of Data Centers
Data center architecture comes in many different sizes and configurations to meet the wide-ranging needs of businesses. The four primary types of data centers are:
Enterprise Data Centers
Enterprise data centers are private data center facilities owned and operated by an organization for their exclusive use. They offer complete control over infrastructure, security, and data and typically require considerable upfront and operational costs.
Colocation Data Centers
Colocation data centers enable companies to lease space for their servers and networks within a data center operated by a third-party provider. By outsourcing their networking needs to colocation facilities, businesses can forego facility construction costs while maintaining control over their gear in a secure, high-availability environment.
Managed Services Data Centers
Third-party providers own and operate managed services data centers on behalf of a company. The company doesn’t own the data center or computing equipment; instead, they contract out for their data management.
Cloud Data Centers
Cloud data centers, sometimes called hyperscale data centers, allow businesses to use servers, storage systems, and networking resources located off-site and managed by a cloud services provider. Cloud-based data centers offer scalability according to needs and a pay-as-you-go cost structure.
What Are the Components of a Data Center?
Some of the core components of data centers include:
Servers and Storage
The most fundamental data center components are the servers that store and process data, which can include rack-mounted servers, blade servers, and tower servers. Alongside servers, storage systems like hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and storage area networks (SANs) are used to store the vast amounts of data produced in the facilities.
A data center network connects servers and storage infrastructure to the outside world. Networking equipment typically includes routers, switches, firewalls, and load balancers.
Racks and Cabinets
Standardized enclosures mount and organize IT infrastructure in compact form factors. Open-frame racks and enclosed cabinets come in varying heights and widths to accommodate different server, storage, and networking configurations.
Power infrastructure encompasses all equipment that provides and regulates power to the data center. This includes uninterruptible power supplies and backup generators to provide power during outages and power distribution units (PDUs) to distribute electricity to servers and equipment.
Modern data centers generate a lot of heat due to their high-power usage, making dedicated cooling equipment a critical component. These can include air conditioning units, chillers, and even cutting-edge liquid cooling solutions.
On top of cyber security measures, physical security is also vital for data centers. This typically includes access control systems, CCTV cameras, and security personnel to prevent unauthorized access. Data centers are also equipped with sophisticated fire detection and suppression systems like gas, water mist, and FM-200 to protect the facilities and equipment from damage.
Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software and connected sensors enable remote monitoring of the conditions in the data center facility. These tools measure temperature, humidity, air quality, and even potential water leaks to detect issues before they become critical.
Data Center Infrastructure Standards
Standards for data center infrastructures are vital, as they establish the guidelines for reliable data center design, operation, and management. The most prominent standards for data center infrastructure include:
Uptime Institute’s Tier Classification
Uptime Institute developed its Tier classification system over 25 years ago, and it remains an international standard for data center performance today. Uptime Institute’s system divides data center classifications into four Tiers that define specific criteria for maintenance, power, cooling, and fault tolerance. These Tiers are:
- Tier I – A Tier I data center has single-capacity components, a non-redundant distribution path, and limited protection against disruptions.
- Tier II – Tier II data centers have redundant capacity components for power and cooling for improved protection against disruptions.
- Tier III – Tier III data centers are concurrently maintainable. They provide redundant capacity components and distribution paths, so no disruptions occur when equipment needs maintenance or replacement.
- Tier IV – Tier IV data centers provide redundant capacity and multiple independent distribution paths. Every production component must have a fault-tolerant power design so that it can be insulated from any disruption.
ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard that provides a systematic approach to managing sensitive information. By complying with ISO/IEC 27001, data center providers can demonstrate their dedication to maintaining a high level of security for their customers’ data.
ANSI/BICSI 002 is a standard for data center design and operational excellence. It provides guidelines for planning, building, and running a data center, including site selection, architecture, electrical and mechanical systems, and network infrastructure.
What Is Data Center Security?
A 2022 IDC survey found that over 70% of enterprises have experienced at least one major security incident in their on-premises data centers – and the majority have experienced two or more.4 Protecting your data center from threats that could disrupt operations should be a top priority, which is where data center security comes in. Data center security includes:
Physical security solutions protect the data center’s physical infrastructure from unauthorized access and other damage. It includes measures such as perimeter security, access controls, CCTV systems, security lighting, and more. Strict protocols are also maintained for visitor access and equipment handling.
Cyber security solutions help protect an enterprise data center from digital threats. These typically include intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), firewalls, and regular vulnerability assessments.
Modern data center security extends to protecting the physical environment with fire suppression systems to protect against fires without damaging equipment and sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity, ensuring data center equipment operates within optimal conditions.
Operational security involves maintaining the continuous and efficient operation of the data center. This encompasses everything from backup power supplies and redundant systems to ensure uptime during change management procedures. Additionally, data centers regularly create and test disaster recovery and business continuity strategies to ensure a fast response during a crisis.
Large data centers have to comply with various industry standards and regulations relating to data protection and privacy, which may include GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, and others. By complying with these standards, a data center provider can demonstrate their commitment to protecting client data.
Get Started With Data Center Services You Can Rely On
Data centers enable organizations of all types and sizes to securely house IT infrastructure and support their operations. As your business navigates the intricacies of the digital landscape, partnering with a trusted data center colocation provider can make all the difference in leveraging the power of data and technology.
As Canada’s largest data center provider, eStruxture delivers a wide range of colocation services backed by our global ecosystem of network and cloud providers. Nearly 1,000 customers depend on our data center platform for the space, power, cooling, and connectivity needed to grow their businesses – backed by high reliability and responsive support.
Get in touch with our data center experts today to learn more.