A Definitive Guide to Data Centres and What They Do

A lot of emerging technological trends impact business in regards to security, productivity and communications efficiency. One of the most important areas that tech staff have to understand is data centres because they form the backbone of modern IT infrastructure.

Data centres have evolved over the years due to the rapid rise of AI, cloud computing and virtualisation. There have been continuous changes in the information technology sphere resulting in alterations in the way UK data centres provide their services.

What are Data Centres?

A data centre or colocation is a centralised location where computing and networking equipment are kept for huge amounts of data to be collected, stored, processed and distributed. They are physical facilities that rent out space for businesses to store their vital information applications. Due to the high concentrations of servers which are typically stacked in racks, colocation centres are occasionally called server farms.

Data centre providers have been in operation since the emergence of computers, in the past where computers were room-sized behemoths, a data centre could have consisted of just a supercomputer. Equipment became cheaper and smaller, so data processing demand rapidly rose. People now work with numerous servers to maximise processing power. 

Though companies have the option of placing their network services within their premises, several need accessible storage facilities that are dedicated to handling their critical IT systems. The amount of data handled these days needs significant infrastructure to manage effectively. These structures such as back up generators, uninterrupted power supply, cooling systems etc. need enormous capital investment that most small and medium enterprises cannot afford. 

How do Data Centres Work?

Currently, UK data centres consist of numerous very powerful or very small servers operating 24/7. These centres store and serve up websites, run instant messaging and email services. They facilitate online transactions, host online gaming communities and offer many other things that need heavy digital processing. 

Almost all governments and businesses need data centres of their own or another person’s which they can access. Huge data centres became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s when internet use became mainstream. Large companies used data centre buildings at various locations around the world. There are over 4700 colocation facilities in the world as it stands. 

Data centre buildings are typically imposing and uniform in colour. They usually have several security protocols guarding their accessibility. One of the keys to colocation functionality is its tiers. 

Data Centre Tiers

These are systems that describe specific forms of data centre infrastructure in a standardised format. They range from tier 1 to 4 in order of complexity and redundancy. Each tier consists of the components of all those beneath it. While Tier 1 might be insufficient to meet a company’s need, tier 4 could be an over investment.

  • Tier 1: This has one path for power and cooling with a few, if any redundant components. Its estimated uptime is 99.671% which translates to 28.8 hours of downtime per year.
  • Tier 2: This tier has a simple power and cooling path with a few backup components. Expected uptime is 99.741%, i.e. 22 hours of downtime per year. 
  • Tier 3: This type of data centre tier has multiple power supply and cooling paths. It also has systems in place for updating and maintaining equipment without needing to go offline. Its expected uptime is 99.982%, that means only 1,6 hours of downtime a year.
  • Tier 4: This data centre is designed to be fault resistant with redundancy for all components. It has an estimated uptime of 99.995%, implying only 26.3 minutes of downtime every year. 

What are the Security Concerns and Benefits of Colocation?

Before a business decides to switch to a data centre provider, they must first understand how secure colocation is. Typically, physical servers that are hosted in a colocation facility or on-premises are managed by an IT department. Staff responsible for handling the networking gear, switches and physical servers may be limited, leading to security lapses. 

Many businesses overlook their cybersecurity budget and personnel until it is too late. There could be misconfigured firewalls, switches and routers that result in vulnerabilities. Hacking and data breaches are always a concern irrespective of the virtual or physical environment, provided hackers are challenged or can profit from the information they extract. 

Colocation centres apply stringent measures when it comes to physical security. They use equipment such as CCTVs, man traps, private suites, suppression systems and mantraps to restrict unauthorised access. To get to the storage facilities, people must present identification that ranges from biometrics to keycards. Aside from protection from human attacks, data centre buildings are usually constructed to withstand extreme weather conditions.