Data Centre technology simplified

Written by Rene Millman, Freelance Technology Writer Published 2017-05-10 13:58:00

What technology does a data centre use and run on?

While people are the heart of many organisations, the data centre can be considered the brain. They are there to process, manage, store and disseminate data to and from staff, customers, and other organisations. Consequently, the data centre your enterprise uses should be secure and reliable as the information they contain is critical for your organisation’s IT needs.

But have you ever wondered what goes on in a data centre, and what kind of technology is used to power it? Data centres vary enormously, with a data centre built for a government having different security and infrastructure requirements to one built for a large-scale public cloud provider.

How data centres work

Data centres are usually run by enterprises, governments or service providers. Over the last ten years, they have also been used to provide cloud computing-based services for businesses and consumers alike. Businesses rely on the services, applications and data within a data centre, making it a critical asset to an enterprise.

The data centre is not a monolith, but rather a collection of individual elements. If you look inside a data centre you will see servers, networking equipment, storage devices as well as cabling and physical racks to contain, organise and interconnect systems.

Its electrical systems include power distribution and additional power subsystems, including electrical switching; uninterruptable power supplies; backup generators; redundant power sources; etc. All this electricity also means that cooling systems are necessary. In a data centre, there will be proper ventilation and air conditioners to maintain optimal temperatures. Power, cooling and heating combine to make data centres one of the highest energy consuming facilities in the world, (although data centre operators are at the forefront of trying to eradicate any negative impacts on the environment).

Within a data centre, the usable space (also known as “white” space) must be designed to optimise conditions to keep equipment within manufacturer-specified temperature/humidity ranges.

Your data is very important, so any data centre you use must be sturdily constructed to be protected from theft and the elements. This means physical security systems (security guards, secure entry card systems, biometrics, and video surveillance systems, etc.)

Not only this, but smoke detection and automatic fire extinguishing systems also must be in place, while floors must be strengthened due to the extra weight being carried, compared to that of a normal office.

If you need immediate access to data, then your data centre needs to be connected to the internet. So, you need the provision of network carrier (telco) connectivity. Of course, your data centre must also have operational staff to monitor operations and maintain IT and infrastructural equipment twenty-four hours a day.

Backup, colocation and consolidation

While your enterprise may use just one data centre, there is an increasing requirement to have multiple data centres in different locations for better resilience and application performance. Also, placing a data centre close to your main users can also lower latency, improving performance.

Your enterprise may also need colocation facilities. It is a good idea to lease server space and other hardware from a data centre operator; this means your organisation can expand their infrastructure without the extra capital expenditure.

It all ends in tiers

While most people think about data centres in terms of their size, they are more often defined by how reliable or resilient they are.

That’s why there are four “tiers” of data centre design (created by the Uptime Institute), as defined in 2005 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA):

  • Tier 1 - Basic site infrastructure with a single distribution path that has no built-in redundancy.
  • Tier 2 - Redundant site infrastructure with a single distribution path that includes redundant components.
  • Tier 3 - Concurrently maintainable site infrastructure that has multiple paths, only one of which is active at a time.
  • Tier 4 - Fault tolerant site infrastructure that has multiple active distribution paths for lots of redundancy.

Managing data centre infrastructure: Physical, virtual and cloud

In looking after your data, you need technology to manage and monitor the hardware inside. Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools enable your IT administrators to remotely oversee the facility and its equipment. This technology also monitors performance, identifies failures, and carries out remedial actions - all without you having to step foot within the data centre.

Your enterprise most likely uses cloud and virtualisation, and this adds another important element to data centre management. Virtualisation abstracts operating systems and workloads from the underlying hardware, to allow administrators to organise computing resources into pools regardless of physical location.

Administrators can then use these resources to provision workloads, storage, and find how these can network with each other. When these resources are no longer needed, they can be reused elsewhere in the organisation. Using software to implement this has given rise to the term ‘software-defined data centre’.

Cloud takes virtualisation to another level through the added automation, user self-service and billing and chargeback. This means an individual user can provision their own computing resources without the help of an It administrator.

The technology inside a data centre is what makes sure that not only does your enterprise have access to your precious data, but it is stored in a safe and secure way.

Using a third-party owned and managed data centre is a great way of ensuring that you have all the technology and security you need to maintain your data in a cost-effective manner. And having that peace of mind is something you can’t put a price on.

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