It is the brain of a company and the place where the most critical processes are run. Find out why data centers are necessary and – looking at SAP’s data center in St. Leon-Rot as an example – what they contain, and how they are operated.
A data center is a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It generally includes redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls (e.g., air conditioning, fire suppression) and various security devices.
Large-scale computer systems have been around for a while, and many people are already familiar with the term data center. In the 1940s, computers were so large that individual rooms had to be specially set aside to house them. Even the steady miniaturization of the computer did not initially change this arrangement because the functional scope increased to such an extent that the systems still required the same amount of space. Even today, with individual PCs being much more powerful than any mainframe system from those days, every large-scale operation has complex IT infrastructures with a substantial amount of hardware – and they are still housed in properly outfitted rooms. Depending on their size, these are referred to as “server rooms” or “data centers.”
The basic characteristics are the same regardless of the size of the data because every company’s success invariably depends on smooth software operations – and those have to be safeguarded.
A data center preferably consists of a well-constructed, sturdy building that houses servers, storage devices, cables, and a connection to the Internet. In addition, the center also has a large amount of equipment associated with supplying power and cooling, and often automatic fire extinguishing systems.
Data center architectures and requirements can differ significantly. For example, a data center built for a cloud service provider like Amazon EC2 satisfies significantly different facility, infrastructural, and security requirements than a completely private data center, such as one built for the Pentagon that is dedicated to securely maintaining classified data.
Regardless of classification, an effective data center operation is achieved through a balanced investment in the facility and equipment housed. The elements of a data center breakdown as follows:
- Facility – the location and “white space,” or usable space, that is available for IT equipment. Providing around the clock access to information makes data centers one of the most energy consuming facilities in the world. A high emphasis is placed on design to optimize white space and environmental control to keep equipment within manufacturer-specified temperature/humidity range.
- Support infrastructure – equipment contributing to securely sustaining the highest level of availability possible. The Uptime Institute defined four tiers data centers can fall under with availability ranging from 99.671% – 99.995%. Some components for supporting infrastructure include:
- Uninterruptible power sources (UPS) – battery banks, generators, and redundant power sources.
- Environmental control – computer room air conditioners (CRAC), heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and exhaust systems.
- Physical security systems – biometrics and video surveillance systems.
- IT equipment – actual equipment for IT operations and storage of the organization’s data. This includes servers, storage hardware, cables, and racks, as well as a variety of information security elements such as firewalls.
- Operations staff – to monitor operations and maintain IT and infrastructural equipment around the clock.