In its simplest form, data centres are facilities that house computing infrastructure. The purpose of these resources is usually to support business applications by providing a network between computers, storing and processing data. The infrastructure itself is mainly made up of IT hardware such as servers, storage systems, networking equipment and cables (lots of cables). All of the components required to host a network are housed in the data centre.
With the function of data centres now so integral to business, they must be fully operational at all times. A failure in operation or interruption in availability can be catastrophic for those business and organisations who depend on its services. Therefore, the demand on data centres is vast and the facilities consume huge amounts of energy. To help sustain this, data centres are designed with specialist infrastructure to give control over power and environmental conditions.
Data centres can potentially house highly sensitive and confidential information, like that of a bank or Government body for example, so another key feature of a data centre is its security. With so much data being processed and stored, it makes them a target for thieves and cyber criminals. To counteract this, data centres are often designed with extensive physical security measures such as biometrics and surveillance systems.
The 1990’s was a huge decade for the computing industry. Although desktop computers had started to become mainstream throughout the 1980’s, the introduction of the internet revolutionised the world with services and connectivity the likes of which had never been seen before. But equally important on our timeline to the first data centre was the introduction of the microprocessor.
The combination of these technological advancements and increasingly inexpensive hardware saw the widespread implementation of in-house networked systems. Made up of microprocessor computers acting as the servers, in effect this setup created the first data centres. With the internet now an essential part of business, companies started to build external facilities to house infrastructure. Over time as technology evolved, this housing of infrastructure became a business in itself, leading to the data centres we’re familiar with today.
17% of the total global carbon footprint caused by technology is due to data centres. The electricity that is needed to run these data centres is nearly 30 billion watts!
There are actually several different ways that data centre resources are consumed. Users may favour certain solutions based on business requirements, others will have the decision made for them due to the unfeasible costs that others represent. Let’s break down the main ways data centre solutions are designed and used.
These data centres are built and maintained by the company or organisation on-site, and their resources are consumed solely by themselves. The capabilities of these data centres will vary on the owner’s requirements and the amount of capital they are able or willing to invest. They are commonplace for large businesses, particularly those in the tech industry with the funding and knowledge to manage their own sites.
In this scenario, businesses or organisations partially or completely hand over management of their hosting needs to a hosting provider, supported by a data centre, including implementation and ongoing management. This involves a Service Level Agreement (SLA) outlining the services involved and the requirements. This can suit a range of clients, but particularly small to medium sized businesses without the experience to self-manage data centre infrastructure, as these solutions often include a wider package of benefits such as technical support and hosting services and technology.
A co-located arrangement involves a data centre that is owned by a third party, whose facilities are sold to multiple customers (like the managed hosting providers above). These clients then fill the space they rent (racks) with their own equipment. The main difference between colocation and managed hosting is that the data centre doesn’t maintain or support the clients platform, they simply provide the facility and the power. This solution can suit business models with a sufficient IT department.
64% of all the data centres in the Netherlands store the heat generated by their servers and later reuse it to warm houses! The heat produced by the servers in data centres can potentially provide heating to 200,000 households!
Data centres are commonly classified in tiers one to four. The guidelines developed by the globally renowned and respected Uptime Institute (UI) give an evidence-based, unbiased review of data centres to help tenants make a considered decision when looking to employ a data centre provider.
*(facility can operate once over its requirement plus a backup).
**(facility can operate twice over its requirement plus a backup).
Redundancy: a system design where a component is duplicated so that in the event of
that components failure, the duplicate takes over and the system is not impacted.
So, what can we learn from these classifications? Despite their small margins, it’s important to remember some businesses cannot function without the services provided through the data centres and any downtime would be hugely costly. One big difference that should be taken into consideration is in the redundancy each tier offers. Redundancy refers to the amount of backup power available, highlighting whether they provide multiple infrastructure components, such as fuel-run generators, to ensure the data centre can continue to operate as usual in the event of a power failure.
As technology and digitalisation becomes increasingly widespread, the reliance on data centre facilities is rapidly increasing. To meet demand, data centres are being built faster and pushed harder than ever before. This has created its own set of challenges. For facilities that are consuming copious amounts of power to support the data being stored and processed, environmental sustainability and efficiency must be a key consideration.
To avoid irreparable damage to the environment, data centres are increasingly being designed with solutions to ensure their energy usage and carbon footprint are reduced. Google operates a data centre in Finland that utilises cold seawater to cool its facility, and Apple has built the largest private solar installation to ensure its faculties are running on renewable energy – they claim this accounts for almost 100% of their data centre usage.
Advanced technology is also being built into data centres to reduce their environmental effects. Using artificial intelligence to monitor and adapt energy consumption ensures that facilities aren’t using power they don’t actually need. Most companies are now utilising these technological advancements and renewable solutions, and this has introduced ‘green data centres’ which run efficiently and sustainably.
Yahoo runs a hydroelectric data centre that is powered by Niagara Falls! The 155,000 square-foot energy efficient facility utilises the natural airflow of the Falls’ environment
and has cut its energy consumption by at least 40%.
For many businesses, owning and operating their own in-house data centre facility is an unrealistic expense and resource overhead; a combined cost of the initial investment, on-going maintenance, resource allocation and hardware refreshes simply isn’t feasible. Not to mention the sheer manpower and experience required to operate a top tier data centre at optimum performance, with the long-term maintenance of these environments, networking, security and utilities management to consider.
This isn’t to say it’s not the right option for certain end users, large organisations in the tech industry in particular, but for many a more realistic option is through a cloud hosting provider offering co-location space or a managed solution.
Specialist data centre providers are able to invest the time, budget and expert resource required to build and maintain a top tier data centre facility. Managed hosting and co-location solutions take advantage of these multi-million-pound facilities, and with their enormity comes big name clients, like banks, private sector corporations and governments requiring the highest levels of security to protect their data. There are massive economies of scale at play here; the benefits of which, security being a prime example, are automatically passed onto any business that shares this space.
A managed hosting solution, such as Secura’s Virtual Private Cloud, combines expert hosting management with top tier data centre infrastructure. This arrangement removes the need (and stress!) of end users having to manage co-located data centre space themselves, and allows managed hosting providers to deliver the co-located solution directly. This also leaves data centre management to be handled by expert third parties; we like to think of it as the best of both worlds.
Secura specialises in hosting critical web applications and systems. Our highly secure Virtual Private Cloud platform underpins applications and systems with flexibility and resilience, offering the scale, security and commercial flexibility that businesses need to support their clients and grow quickly, without restrictions and restraints. This technology is backed by a complete commitment to the very highest levels of service and 24/7 support from an ISO 20000 accredited, service desk team.
We hope this guide has been useful, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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Matthew is Secura's content specialist, producing gripping, emotionally complex, edge of your seat, cloud hosting articles and videos.
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