What Does a Data Center Consist Of?
Within a data center, there is roughly two types of infrastructure: components that are core to the operations of the facility, and infrastructure in place designed to support that core IT infrastructure. Computers and servers are in the former group, while cooling equipment, electricity, foundation, etc. are the latter.
What are the Physical Components of a Data Center?
Let’s work from the outside in. Most data centers are in physical structures of some kind, like a building. This is not true of all of them though, as some data centers are located in underground bunkers or under water. Most data centers are in office buildings or other similar edifices.
The physical building often may not contain windows, although it sometimes will have an opening to let in enough air to help prevent IT and computing equipment from getting too hot. HVAC equipment is often found on the roof, and sometimes a data center will have a solar array or windmills for electricity generation.
Many data centers are designed to physically withstand major acts of nature such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, typhoons, blizzards, heat waves, etc. Many data center buildings are constructed out of durable materials like steel-reinforced concrete for this reason.
A data center can consist of a single floor, or more often multiple floors within the building. Some facilities have a raised floor architecture, which means there is a gap in between the true floor and the floor that contains additional IT equipment; this gap then contains electrical wiring, cabling, cooling equipment and other resources needed to help support the continual functioning of the core computing equipment. A benefit of raised floor architecture is more effective use of vertical space along with greater availability of connectivity and cooling infrastructure.
Access to the floors is typical guarded by locked doors and overseen by security infrastructure (like cameras and alarms) along with security personnel. Further, depending on the type of facility in question, a data center may have separate, locked server rooms.
The core computing equipment found in a standard data center is the server, which serves as the central computing infrastructure within the data center. Servers are typically stored in racks and cabinets.
Cabling connects servers to one another and to a wider network such as the internet. Many racks contain routers for a similar purpose. Most data centers have robust connectivity infrastructure, including close access to fiber optic cabling, for optimal connectivity for servers.
Data centers also contain electrical infrastructure to power servers and other pieces of equipment. In addition to ample electrical plugs for servers and wiring to connect the data center to the wider municipal electrical grid, most data centers contain backup electrical infrastructure. Backup generators (along with fuel for the generators) are common within data center environments, as are solar panels and wind-powered turbines.
To ensure servers and other pieces of computing infrastructure remain at an optimal temperature and don’t overheat, the vast majority of data centers contain some amount of cooling infrastructure (plus the infrastructure needed to keep the cooling infrastructure functioning and running smoothly). This can include everything from fans and HVAC equipment like air conditioning units to pipes containing outside cold water than run alongside warmer infrastructure to cool it down.
Who Manages Data Center Infrastructure?
The vast majority of data centers employ a data center operations manager, or someone with a similar title; often a data center will have a team of managers in place. Data center operations managers are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all of the infrastructure within a data center. They also often design and implement standards and best practices to ensure infrastructure is maintained well, always functioning and will be upgraded in an effective and timely manner.
Data center operations teams will often leverage data center infrastructure management solutions to complete the core functions of their job. According to Gartner, “Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools monitor, measure, manage and/or control data center utilization and energy consumption of all IT-related equipment (such as servers, storage and network switches) and facility infrastructure components (such as power distribution units [PDUs] and computer room air conditioners [CRACs]).”
In addition to this core team, many data centers employ specialists to ensure specific infrastructure is maintained and updated regularly. For example, a data center will have a dedicated HVAC team - employed directly by the data center owner or brought on site as a contractor - to ensure air conditioning units are functioning well and repaired if necessary.