Somewhere, in a rather innocuous looking building on the outskirts of town, is a collection of tightly controlled network servers containing all sorts of data you use to interact online. This innocuous looking building is known as a data centre, and there are hundreds of them all over the UK.
How much do you know about the average data centre? How much do you know about the technology that powers it? Most people don't know much, only because they do not really need to know. Still, understanding the technology behind the data centre may give you a greater appreciation of why they are so important to nearly everything we do.
Network Data Servers
The data centre is, by design, a physical space utilised to store and access digital data. Making it possible are the hundreds of network data servers found at the facility. The servers are spread across dozens of racks and connected by miles of wiring and cables. The servers transfer an unfathomable amount of data every single day, and they do so seamlessly. The speed and performance of modern server racks is that which makes it possible for us to do so much online.
At the heart of every data centre are the power supplies and infrastructure that keep it running. The key in this area is redundancy. In other words, it takes multiple systems to reduce the risks of the centre going down to near zero. Only when a data centre has sufficient redundancy built-in can it claim to offer 100% uptime.
Grid-based power forms the core of a data centre’s power supply. The best data centres in the UK have at least two sources of grid power; one acts as the primary source while the others are a backup. A third avenue for redundancy involves diesel-powered generators that kick in automatically if both sources of grid power are interrupted.
As a side note, grid power can either be accessed through sustainable sources or traditional fossil fuel providers. It is not uncommon for data centres to utilise a combination of both or even run entirely on renewable sources.
Network Data Servers produce a tremendous amount of heat over the course of a day. Therefore, adequate cooling is critical. Data centre operators achieve cooling in several different ways. Firstly, they cool servers directly using both air and liquid technologies. Servers must be kept at a cooler temperature to allow them to operate at maximum efficiency with minimal degradation.
Secondly, data centres must be designed to accommodate proper cooling of both server rooms and individual offices. This is achieved through a combination of air conditioning, condensing, and strategic airflow that exchanges warmer interior air for cooler exterior air.
Last are the security controls put in place to protect both data and physical premises. Data-related security includes options such as physical firewalls and software tools for monitoring and addressing electronic intrusions. The security of any set of data stored on network servers is largely controlled at the server level.
Data is further protected by limiting physical access. Only authorised personnel are allowed in the server rooms while controlled access also applies to the data itself. All security controls are tied together with on-site security meant to protect the physical premises from intrusion. Access control at all entry points is critical, as is a means for identifying breaches. The most secure data centres in the world are impossible to get into without proper clearance.
Data centres power the online world in which we live. It is technology and infrastructure that power the data centres. Our capacity for storing and using data will only grow in relation to the technologies we use to keep them running in the future.