All businesses need to back up their data (documents, customer details, emails, financial information, and else) in order to keep it safe from theft, fire, flood or accidental deletion. If you are a small business, you may store your data on a simple server in the office. But as an organisation grows larger, demand also grows for its products and services.
A growing team will need to store more data and the website will become more popular. The business inevitably ends up needing more servers. An entirely separate server room, even, might be needed just to house them all.
But maintaining a server room is no picnic. For a start, servers create lots of heat. They need to be kept cool, otherwise they can fail catastrophically, and providing this level of cooling using traditional air-conditioning units can be very expensive.
Server facilities also need to be maintained around the clock by an IT professional to ensure that they run reliably. Together, these constraints can become a serious financial and logistical headache. Not to mention a security risk. Keeping business-critical servers in-house is rather like a bank keeping its cash in a shed in the car park.
Rather than trying to solve these financial and logistical problems themselves, many organisations choose to move all of their servers out of their own buildings and into a specialist facility called a data centre.
This is a secure, computer-friendly environment that is maintained around the clock by IT specialists, mechanical experts and electrical engineers. It is also kept at just the right temperature to ensure that the servers supported inside perform at their best.
Crucially, data centres are also equipped with their own backup “uninterruptable” power supplies (or UPS), usually in the form of a large amount of batteries and a powerful generator, so that even if there’s a mains electricity failure, the servers – and the organisations they support – can keep on running. Data centres are also connected directly to the internet backbone, meaning servers hosted inside them have the fastest and most reliable internet speeds available.
Because this data centre facility or location is shared by many organisations at once, it’s known as colocation.
A data floor looks a bit like this:
There are several aisles. The servers are held within locked cabinets (or racks, as they are normally called). Data centre clients rent as many racks as they require, according to the amount of processing power, storage space or bandwidth they usually consume.
Clients can opt to maintain their systems themselves or to use technical support (or remote hands) on a full-time or ad hoc basis.
Placing their servers in a data centre is only necessary for some mid-sized businesses, but increasingly organisations are doing their sums and calculating the risks of keeping crucial data in-house. You may want to ask yourself:
How much electricity (and floor space) would we save if we put all our servers in one location?
How much will it cost us if we need to expand (or reduce) our current IT infrastructure in the future?
What would be the cost to the company if we lost our servers to a power-cut, theft, fire or flood?
If the answer to any of the above is “a lot”, then a data centre may be a better option.
If your still wondering what exactly a data centre does, watch the video below.
David Barker is technical director and founder of the green colocation and connectivity supplier 4D Data Centres.
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