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What Is A Data Center? And Why Is It Important?

by | Apr 7, 2021 | Blog | 2 comments

Data center storage capacity is over 1,300 exabytes worldwide. Or, if you like to have your mind blown, it’s over 1.327×109 terabytes or 1,327,000,000,000 gigabytes.


Data is a part of our daily lives, but knowing how it’s stored is a different story. It all comes down to data centers, but asking “What is a data center?” is not a simple question. We’ll show you why in this article.

​Let’s discuss.

What is a Data Center?

​ To oversimplify, a data center is a room that houses IT equipment.

Maybe that’s just a tad too broad.

To understand it fully, let’s start with servers. As you likely know, servers are computers that store and send data such as websites, emails, and files, to other computers over a network. Some businesses need multiple servers, and others only need one or two. 

Some don’t need any servers in-house and rely on the WiFi servers they purchase, just like your internet access at home. Later, we’ll talk about why a company might want to have a private server, but let’s move on for now.

When a company begins to need multiple servers, they may create a room that houses all these servers, and over time, this becomes a server room. If a server room becomes so large that it stands on its own, that’s called a data center.

Data centers can be as small as a closet or as large as a university campus, depending on the owner’s needs. Because of this considerable variation, the equipment used for each data center can be quite different. 

Along with standard network equipment, all data centers need a power source and a cooling device. Closet-sized server rooms can use small fans or air conditioning. Complete data centers, however, need enterprise-scale cooling systems. A wall outlet might enough to power a small server room, but in larger facilities, power can come from direct connections to power stations. It all depends on scale.

What Do Data Centers Do?

​You can think of data centers as a safety deposit box for virtual data. A safety deposit box allows people to store a multitude of items: passports, cash, valuables, and more. They’re flexible storage containers.

The same is true for data centers. Users store data of all kinds of data in a data center, whether they know it or not. Everything on the internet, from Facebook photos to website pages to patient records, is stored in a data center.

Users are connected to data centers and consequently the internet through a network of cables and wireless connections. We call this WiFi if it’s wireless and ethernet if it’s not. Your WiFi connection does eventually connects to ethernet cables, even if you don’t see it in your home.

Different types of cables with various benefits exist. For this article’s purposes, know that they all serve to transfer data from a data center to the end-user and back. 

When users connect to the internet, the data they send, such as a web domain or software computation, enters a firewall, accesses a switch, and then returns the user’s requested information in milliseconds. Opening an email, searching on Google, or trading a stock all takes place in a data center. 

Are Data Centers Foolproof?

​No data center is foolproof, but a good one gets close. And good data centers make this happen through redundancy.

Although you might think of redundant as a bad word, in the data center world, it’s the most important aspect. Broadly, redundancy means that essential components have duplicate backups. If one piece of equipment breaks, a second, redundant version can immediately take its place. The more redundancy you have, the less likely the data center will go down. 

Redundancy Levels

There are four types of redundancy levels used in the data center industry. The following equations show the different levels. In these equations, N equals the power and equipment needed for a data center to function at full capacity.

  • N
  • N+1
  • 2N
  • 2N+1

In the first one (N), the data center has no redundancy, meaning that any machine failure will cause downtime. The broken equipment will have to be fixed or replaced before power and connectivity can return. Generally, (N) data centers are not standalone data centers, but they can be.

N+1 means that the data center has at least one extra piece of equipment for every piece of equipment needed to run a data center. Essentially, if one piece of equipment fails, another one can back it up. It’s very simple redundancy.

Keep in mind that an N+1 data center cannot run at capacity if a whole section of equipment goes down. If a data center needs four cooling towers to run, an N+1 data center would only have only have five. So, if something went wrong with the cooling tower system, everything could go down.

2N is where redundancy gets interesting. The data center now has double the equipment needed to run. Instead of five cooling towers, there are 8.

But there’s more. 

In 2N, the extra 4 cooling towers are a different and independent system. So if one cooling system fails, the other system will start running. 2N has two redundant sides that can replace each other.

The two sides at a 2N data center often function on separate power stations. That way, if one power station goes out, the data center won’t falter because the other side is connected to a seperate power station. Data centers can also support themselves with redundant generators and rechargeable batteries. Outages at 2N data centers are extremely rare. 

2N+1 data centers also have two fully independent sides, and like an N+1 data center, each piece of equipment has a backup. A 2n+1 data center should never go down, though they have before. You often see 2N+1 data centers used by government organizations, large financial institutions, and security exchanges, though anyone can benefit from one.

2N+1 data centers should not have more than 26.3 minutes of downtime each year. Data centers in the 2N category should have less than 1.6 hours. However, both strive for even less downtime, and you can expect almost no noticeable service interruptions when using a data center with 2N redundancy or better.

Why Switch to a Private Data Center?

If you put things in the cloud or use the internet, you store your information in a data center.

You usually can’t know which one though. The cloud service or internet provider you use decides for you. If you use Dropbox in Tennessee, your data might be in Arizona. A website created in Virginia might use a hosting service in California.

Lately, however, many businesses have taken control of their data storage by switching to private or hybrid cloud solutions. Let’s look at a few reasons people might want to switch:

  • Greater reliability
  • Financial savings
  • Enhanced security
  • Faster speeds

Greater Reliability

​Good data centers don’t go down. But public cloud options, even ones like Google Workspace, do go down regularly. 

Think of the finance or healthcare industry. Doctors, patients, and clients have to access their data at all times. It can mean life or death in some cases, and in less dire situations, you might lose an angry client. 

With a data center in the 2N or 2N+1 category, you shouldn’t see downtime more than once a year. This reliability is much better than the regular disruptions experienced by many public cloud options.

Financial Savings

Private clouds can also help your bottom dollar. Beside ensuring that you keep clients by delivering faster speeds, a private cloud also helps you pay less. You pay for exactly what you want in speed and size by utilizing the flexibility of a private cloud. 

​If you need 43 terabytes of storage, many public cloud options will only offer you a one-size-fits-all plan of 50 TBs. A private cloud option would be able to provide you with something closer to or precisely at 43 TBs.

Enhanced Security

Physical security may be the clearest benefit of a data center. A server room in an office can be damaged by fire or stolen, but a data center is made to protect against these threats. Advanced fire and flood protection, redundant power, multi-level access buildings, 24/7-armed security, and even more all work to ensure that nothing can ever harm your data.

​Choosing to use a private or hybrid cloud gives you more virtual security than a public cloud as well. Public clouds are, as the name suggests, public. While many big public clouds tout their security, their network and data centers are prominent targets for hackers. Using a private cloud takes the target off of your back, protecting you from bad actors.

Faster Speeds

​Data needs to be fast.

​Because a private cloud is generally customizable, data centers can guarantee specific speeds that a public cloud can’t ensure. Unlike public clouds, a data center’s private cloud will make sure you’re not spending time looking at loading screens when you’re trying to get work done. 

Further, unless there’s a public cloud storage site near you, you’re not getting the fastest speeds you can. Using a local data center means you get faster service simply because it’s closer. When someone enters data, a computer requests information from a server housed in a data center. The further the data center, the slower the retrieval. Closer ones are better, but make sure to balance this with other factors.

Need a Data Center in Tennessee?

Data centers are complex beasts, and this article only touched the surface of what they do and how they work. Each part of a data center could be a book—if not a book series. No promises that all the books would be fun to read, though.

​If you’re looking for a data center in Tennessee or the Southeast, we’d love to talk. Please contact us today!

2 Comments

  1. Braden Bills

    My friend is getting a data center put together for his business, but he’s not sure how to go about it. It makes sense that he would want to ensure that it’s properly cooled. I’ll make sure he knows to work with a professional to help out.

    Reply
    • Alex Holcomb

      Hi Braden, thanks for commenting! If you’d like to get your friend in touch with us, they can reach us at 865-770-5920 or info@shdatatech.com! Thanks!

      Reply

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