What is a Data Center?

A data center is a facility that provides shared access to applications and data using a complex network, compute and storage infrastructure. Industry standards exist to assist in the design, construction and maintenance of data center facilities and infrastructures to ensure the data is both secure and highly available.

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What is a Data Center?

How is a Data Center Used?

Data centers vary in size, from a small server room all the way up to groups of geographically distributed buildings, but they all share one thing in common: they are a critical business asset where companies often invest in and deploy the latest advancements in data center networking, compute and storage technologies.

The modern data center has evolved from a facility containing an on-premises infrastructure to one that connects on-premises systems with cloud infrastructures where networks, applications and workloads are virtualized in multiple private and public clouds.

This depends upon who is responsible for it and who is using it. In the figure below we see how as-a-service models are shifting ownership of data center and infrastructure components from a fully owned and operated on-premises facility towards a commodity service model.

  • Enterprise data centers are typically constructed and used by a single organization for their own internal purposes. These are common among tech giants.
  • Colocation data centers function as a kind of rental property where the space and resources of a data center are made available to the people willing to rent it.
  • Managed service data centers offer aspects such as data storage, computing, and other services as a third party, serving customers directly.
  • Cloud data centers are distributed and are sometimes offered to customers with the help of a third-party managed service provider.


data center vs. cloud iaas vs paas vs saas

Evolution of the Data Center to the Cloud

The fact that virtual data centers in the cloud can be provisioned or scaled down with just a few mouse clicks is part of the reason for moving to the cloud. In the modern data center, software-defined networking (SDN) manages traffic flows via software. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings, hosted on public and private clouds, spin up whole systems on-demand. When new applications are needed, Platform as a Service (PaaS) and container technologies are available in an instant.

More companies are moving to the cloud, but it isn’t a leap that some are willing to take. In 2019, it was reported that for the first time enterprises paid more annually on cloud infrastructure services than they did on physical data center hardware. However, an Uptime Institute survey found that 58% of organizations say a concern for a lack of visibility, transparency and accountability of public cloud services is keeping most workloads in corporate data centers.

Data Center Architecture Components

Data centers are made up of three primary types of components: compute, storage, and network.  However, these components are only the top of the iceberg in a modern data center.  Beneath the surface, support infrastructure is essential to meeting the service level agreements of an enterprise data center.

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 data center storage systems.

Data Center Networks

Data center 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 data center networks.

Data Center Support Infrastructure

Data centers are a critical asset that is protected with a robust and reliable support infrastructure made up of power subsystems, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), backup generators, ventilation and cooling equipment, fire suppression systems and building security systems.

Industry standards exist from organizations like the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the Uptime Institute to assist in the design, construction and maintenance of data center facilities. For instance, Uptime Institute defines these four tiers:

  • Tier I: Basic capacity, must include a UPS.
  • Tier II: Redundant capacity and adds redundant power and cooling.
  • Tier III: Concurrently maintainable and ensures that any component can be taken out of service without affecting production.
  • Tier IV: Fault tolerant, allowing any production capacity to be insulated from ANY type of failure.

Data Center Security

In addition to the building security systems supporting a data center facility discussed above, data center networks require a thorough zero trust analysis incorporated into any data center design. Data center firewalls, data access controls, IPS, WAF and their modern equivalent Web Application & API Protection (WAAP) systems need to be specified properly to ensure they scale as needed to meet the demands of data center networks.  In addition, if you’re choosing a data storage or cloud services provider, it’s important that you understand the security measures they use for their own data centers. Invest in the highest possible level of security to keep your information safe.

Partnering with a data center security provider is a good way to accomplish these goals.  Check Point Maestro provides hyperscale security that scales on-demand to meet an organization’s data center security requirements.  To learn more, check out this ESG whitepaper.  Then, schedule a free demo of Maestro Hyperscale Network Security.

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