What Is a Data Center? What Are Different Types of Data Centers?

A data center is a facility that centralizes an organization’s IT operations and equipment for the purposes of storing, processing and disseminating data and applications. Because they house an organization’s most critical and proprietary assets, data centers are vital to the continuity of daily operations. Consequently, security and reliability are among any organization’s top priorities.

What Does a Data Center Do?

A data center is designed to handle high volumes of data and traffic with minimum latency, which makes it particularly useful for the following use cases:

  • Private cloud: hosting in-house business productivity applications such as CRM, ERP, etc.
  • Processing big data, powering machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • High-volume eCommerce transactions.
  • Powering online gaming platforms and communities.
  • Data storage, backup, recovery, and management.

Core Components of a Data Center

Data center architectures and requirements can differ significantly. For example, a data center built for a cloud service provider like Amazon will have very different infrastructure requirements than a government facility dedicated to securing classified data.

Data Center Computing

Servers are the engines of the data center. On servers, the processing and memory used to run applications may be physical, virtualized, distributed across containers, or distributed among remote nodes in an edge computing model. Data centers must use processors that are best suited for the task, e.g. general purpose CPUs may not be the best choice to solve artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) problems.

Data Center Storage

Data centers host large quantities of sensitive information, both for their own purposes and the needs of their customers. Decreasing costs of storage media increases the amount of storage available for backing up the data either locally, remote, or both. Advancements in non-volatile storage media lowers data access times. In addition, as in any other thing that is software-defined, software-defined storage technologies increase staff efficiency for managing a storage system.

Data Center Networks

Datacenter network equipment includes cabling, switches, routers, and firewalls that connect servers together and to the outside world. Properly configured and structured, they can manage high volumes of traffic without compromising performance. A typical three-tier network topology is made up of core switches at the edge connecting the data center to the Internet and a middle aggregate layer that connects the core layer to the access layer where the servers reside. Advancements, such as hyperscale network security and software-defined networking, bring cloud-level agility and scalability to on-premises networks.

Types Of Data Centers

When it comes to data centers, one size does not fit all. Data center needs vary depending on their structure, physical limitations, density requirements and more. Here are four common data center types including onsite, colocation facilities, hyperscale, and edge data centers, as well as their use cases and industry trends.

Colocation Facilities

Colocation facilities rent or lease space to multiple organizations to house their data centers. Many organizations utilize a colocation facility, commonly referred to as a colo, for their equipment to benefit from their cooling, physical security, up-time and monitoring guarantees, maintenance and locations.

There are two types of colocation facilities: retail and wholesale. Retail colocation facilities have smaller spaces for rent and only provide infrastructure equipment, such as the rack, for rent. These facilities also maintain the switchgear, generators, cooling, UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and other equipment that keeps the location running. Wholesale colocation facilities rent out the entire data center unit and provide larger spaces. These facilities are typically better for companies that need a lot of space and may expand in the future. Both types of colocation facilities lease power as a cost per kilowatt.

Hyperscale Data Centers

Hyperscale data centers are large and can house thousands or millions of data center servers. These data centers are meant to be scaled, which can be done by increasing the power of the system or adding more data center racks and equipment. Hyperscale data centers are a popular option, and with the increase in data storage needs, these data centers will only continue to expand in size.

Enterprise Data Center

Enterprise data centers are private facilities that are owned and operated by an individual organization to meet its own IT infrastructure requirements. These data centers are particularly well-suited for organizations that require customized networks or can benefit from economies of scale due to significant amounts of traffic or data being processed and managed within their data center.

Organizations may choose to maintain enterprise data centers for a variety of reasons, such as regulatory compliance, privacy protection, superior performance, enhanced security, or cost-effectiveness. These data centers are specifically tailored to be compatible with an organization’s unique enterprise applications and processes and may be located either on-premises or off-premises, depending on factors such as power availability, water accessibility, connectivity, and security.

In an enterprise data center, an in-house IT department manages the servers, storage, and network equipment. Meanwhile, the power equipment, cooling infrastructure, and security systems may be managed either internally or outsourced to a third-party through a facility management contract.

Organizations are increasingly shifting towards a hybrid IT model that allows for a combination of cloud and data center services, including both on-premises and through colocation data centers. Ultimately, enterprises are making the on-premise to cloud migration for reasons of scalability and faster time-to-market for new applications and services. Additionally, enterprise data centers suffer from under utilization of resources due to inadequate resource allocation, lack of workload optimization, and limited visibility into resource usage.

Edge Data Centers

Edge data centers, also known as micro data centers, are smaller, decentralized facilities that provide compute and storage in a location closer to where data is being generated and used. They are situated near their intended users, allowing for real-time data processing and analysis. Because edge data centers perform this analysis closer to the source of data creation, response latency is reduced and bandwidth is optimized, which facilitates the development of new applications. This is in contrast to traditional centralized data centers that rely on multiple networks and data centers for processing. The term “edge” refers to the location at which these types of data centers are typically deployed, which is closer to the point of connectivity. Edge data centers can be deployed as standalone facilities or in a variety of environments, such as at telecommunications central offices, cable headends (i.e., local distribution points), the base of cell towers, or on-premises at an enterprise. In terms of scale, edge data centers serve individual power capacity requirements from 50 kilowatts (kW) to 500 kW of power capacity, or 5 to 50 racks. Multiple edge data centers can be interconnected to increase capacity, improve resiliency, and enable workload migration within a local area.

Modular Data Centers

Modular data centers are standardized buildings that are pre-engineered and prefabricated, complete with power and cooling infrastructure, and used to house computer servers and network equipment. They come in various types, including container data centers, prefabricated data halls, and prefabricated power & cooling modules.

The two primary purposes of modular data centers are to reduce the time and cost required for constructing and deploying a data center. Modular data centers save time by shifting conventional on-site construction tasks to off-site manufacturing facilities, while they deliver cost savings by using standardization and reducing on-site labor.

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