“Data Centres” Series: Introduction (1/3)

This article will be the first of a series of 3 focusing on Data Centres. This article will be an introduction to data centres and their key elements, the following article will focus on Real Estate - Data Centres with the last article focusing on the future of data centres and what that looks like.

Data Centres, Cloud, Cabling

Data centres have been around since the 1940s with the recent rise in demand taking place during the dotcom bubble. This was as the internet took off and firms were required to offer fast internet connectivity and non-stop operations in order to have a presence in the world of the internet.

A data centre is the hub of a business where they rely on their IT operations to function. Everything that happens on the internet originates in data centres; the cloud, web hosting, e-mails, machine learning, content sharing, data sharing, e-commerce transactions, internet access, fibre and so on. Data centres include a variety of technical elements such as routers, firewalls, security devices, servers, generators, machine rooms, cooling systems and delivery controllers. As they are key to organisations, security and liability of the data centres are top priorities. As a result, many companies will have their data within multiple data centres to reduce risks and increase flexibility.

When firms look to place their IT infrastructure in data centres they have a wide variety of choices with the most common centres summarised below:

a. Enterprise – these centres are owned and operated by the companies themselves. These may be in a data centre or sometimes stored within companies offices. They usually provide support for companies internal IT requirements such as server, emails, documentation and intranet.

b. Managed services – managed by a third party where the company leases the equipment and infrastructure and has the third party manage some, or all of the data centre functions.

c. Colocation (colo) – the colo hosts the infrastructure which includes the building, cooling, bandwidth and security whilst the company manage the components such as servers, storage and firewalls. Firms use colocation centres in order to secure their data in a safe location and store them in modern & industry-leading systems whilst not having the hassle to source them.

d. Cloud - hosted by cloud services such as AWS, Azure, IBM Cloud. This is the most inexpensive form of data centres. Firms will often use a hybrid of enterprise and cloud data centres.

e. Further type of data centres include wholesale, telecom and hyperscale data centres.

In addition to the different types of data centres available to businesses, data centres have standards which run based on redundancy and fault tolerance, a key element in the decision-making process. The most common standard is the Uptime Institute’s tier ratings which is ranked in 4 tiers:

Tier 1 – This is generally utilised by small business and is the lowest tier. Tier 1 includes

99.671% uptime and has little to no redundancy or backups which mean they have the lowest uptime guarantee.

Tier 2 – the next level after tier 1 includes more infrastructure and is, therefore, less susceptible to downtime. Tier 2 generally includes a generator as a backup, but still experiences downtime as the server does not offer redundancy for every component. This tier has an uptime of 99.749%.

Tier 3 – This level is above tier 2 and has a more sophisticated infrastructure which includes multiple power sources and has multiple uplinks and must be dual-powered. As such, tier 3 data centres are expected to have a maximum of 2 hours of downtime annually which is equivalent to 99.982% uptime. Tier 3 data centres are the most effective uptime guarantees. Its main downside is that not all its equipment is fault resistant.

Tier 4 – This is the highest level of data centres and has an uptime of 99.995%. it has the most sophisticated infrastructure of all data centres as it has the full capacity to ensure optimum uptime levels and has no points of failure. Tier 4 is error-tolerant and can operate normally even in the event of equipment failure. As a result, tier 4 data centres are much more expensive than the preceding tiers.

The following articles in this series will focus on the UK data centres market.

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