What Is A Data Center: What You Need to Know

Rachel Grand
Data Centers
11 Aug 2021

So, what is a data center?

In your search for a data center definition, you’ve probably come across complex details, diagrams, and explanations full of tech jargon that may have gone over your head. But we’re going to put it in simple terms for you.

In general terms, you can think of data centers as similar to fuel tanks in vehicles: They house the most crucial component in an IT infrastructure — the data that keeps the organization running, just like a fuel tank contains gas that powers cars.

Let’s put it in technical terms now.

A data center is the central physical facility that holds data and applications for an organization. It comprises numerous storage and computing resources, including (but not limited to) servers, firewalls, routers, wires, and switches. An advanced level of networking is needed to make it work efficiently.

See how the team at Ridge explains it: 

IT infrastructure, power consumption, and security requirements of a typical data center are super-high, as it houses business-critical resources and data that cannot be compromised. That’s why organizations nowadays prefer cloud data center services.

In this guide, we’ll discuss all aspects related to these giant ecosystems, i.e., data centers, from their evolution from architecture to cloud deployment. We’ll discuss usage, standards,  benefits, and implementations as well as data center basic knowledge.

Data Centers Overview — Traditional Vs. Modern


A data center from the inside

Image Source

Data centers date back to the time when computers were the size of a big room. In the 1940s, their development, setup, and running costs were too high to consider for commercial or personal usage. However, national data centers and computer systems were in use for projects of national importance, for example, the National Climatic Data Center was established in 1970.

The 1980s marked the advent of micro-computing technology. As expected, it changed data centers significantly — from component size to storage capacity, data centers today are vastly different from their previous versions.

Modern data deployments are far more efficient than traditional data centers. Previously, it was common for organizations to house their data center installations on-premises. However, companies can now move their data off company property and use cloud or cloud edge server storage, saving on setup and maintenance costs.

What are the Major Differences Between Traditional vs. Modern Data Centers?

●     In a traditional data center, data is stored on physical hardware servers, whereas a modern data center stores data in the cloud.

●     Companies that maintain and update the hardware and networking arrangements in a traditional data center must cover these costs themselves. On the other hand, cloud-based, modern data center costs are covered by a global data center service provider. A global data center service provider is a third-party company that rents cloud server resources to businesses and covers the upkeep and maintenance costs.

●     A traditional data center system uses an internal, organizational network to ensure round-the-clock uptime and accessibility. By contrast, accessibility to cloud/multi-cloud/edge data center ecosystem relies on your internet connection when you use a data center as a service solution.

●     In a traditional data center setup, migrating data is costly, time-consuming, and poses security risks, while for a modern system that uses the cloud, data center migration is easier and more secure.

●     Traditional data center deployments are not as secure and scalable as modern deployments.

An Overview of Major Differences that Separate Traditional Data Centers From the Modern Versions:

differences between traditional vs. modern data centers


What Are Data Centers Used For?

Typically, data centers are used for:

●     Storing and managing user data for backup, immediate access, or recovery

●     Business operations such as e-mailing, transactions, texting (IMs), file sharing, etc.

●     Customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other business applications for data management

●     Data-oriented applications, like e-commerce apps, databases, games, etc.

●     Communication and collaboration systems

●     Applications utilizing Big Data that requires a lot of storage space

●     Solutions that need real-time access to manage and modify the data in multiple locations

How Does A Data Center Work?

Now that we’ve answered your question, “What is a data center?” and why you might need one, let’s move on to understand how it works.

A data center has three components:

  1. Storage: It has storage devices, e.g., servers, arranged in data center racks to hold the most precious asset of its digital ecosystem — data;
  2. Network: A huge number of networking devices, such as routers, switches, firewalls, cables, etc., connect multiple data centers to provide flawless data movement and connectivity across the system;
  3. Applications: These ensure optimal utilization of storage and networking devices while providing a way to connect and communicate with storage and network components.

These data center infrastructure core components then combine with environmental control systems, risk mitigation systems, power supply, and other support components to work finely without hiccups or service interruptions.

Data Center Infrastructure — What Are The Standards?

There are numerous network and application delivery appliances that are put together to build an enterprise-grade data center. Therefore, when data center solutions became a norm, the global standards needed to change as well.

The most widely considered data center infrastructure standard is ANSI/TIA-942 that defines four data center tiers:

  • Tier 1 data centers are for basic sites and must protect data against physical data breaches with several limits. Tier 1 resources follow a non-redundant path and utilize single capacity data center components in the network.

Datacenter Redundancy means a system design with duplicated components that is used to back up business operations in case of component failures. A non-redundant path means that there is no duplicate component or arrangement for duplicating, whereas redundant-capacity means that the component itself supports duplicacy and is protected by backups to prevent data loss or downtime.

  • Tier 2 data centers have better physical safety arrangements due to their redundant-capacity components. This site infrastructure, just as a tier 1 data center, can work using one non-redundant distribution path.
  • Tier 3 data centers must provide complete security to the data and applications in it. Numerous independent distribution paths and redundant-capacity components are used in level 3 data center infrastructure to ensure that changing them won’t affect the network.
  • Tier 4 data center deployment is specifically designed to ensure no faults. Its extreme level of fault-tolerant and redundancy is achieved through the placement of numerous redundant-capacity components and independent distribution paths. High scalability, easy manageability, and negligible downtime are the advantages of this enterprise-ready data center architecture.
Tier system

What Are The Different Types Of Data Centers?

The ways in which you would classify a data center vary with service providers or deployment experts around the world.

A data center’s classification differs with service models, how space is shared between organizations, data center costs, network topology, which computing and storage devices it uses, and several other aspects.

Broadly, there are four types of data centers:

1.    Enterprise data centers

Large-sized organizations often prefer to build cloud or on-premise data centers that are fully owned and managed by their company. These systems are expensive, highly customized, and optimized as per the business’s needs.

2.    Managed-services data centers

In the case of managed-services data centers, the network architecture and management are taken care of by third-party service providers instead of by an organization managing its own local data centers. These data centers don’t need your organization to manage equipment. You can use a third-party managed service platform to operate your data center.

3.    Colocation data centers

What if you want to control your data center fully, but do not have (or do not want to own) all the resources and space for hosting it on-premises?

Co-located data centers offer a convenient solution. Colo, or colocation data centers are leased data spaces off the company premises. However, data center servers, firewalls, storage, and other IT components are owned by the organization in this case. The risk prevention and security implementations, alongside the building, bandwidth, equipment for cooling, and physical security, are a third-party’s responsibility.

Organizations that do not have enough on-premises space to house a data center or companies located in areas with expensive rent may choose to move their servers to a colocation data center to save money.

4.    Cloud data centers

Cloud data centers are fully managed by third-parties and utilize the principle of data center dynamic management to avoid failure of any kind. In this case, storage space, data, and applications are located off your company premises.  You can use cloud services without worrying about safeguarding and managing your data center, because your cloud data center service provider will handle it all for you. Ridge is one such provider for virtual data center solutions.

Data Center Challenges and Solutions in Cloud Computing

Establishing and managing a data center involves multiple challenges. For example, ensuring high availability, preventing downtime during maintenance, adding cooling deployments, buying data center physical space, paying energy costs, hiring IT staff, paying high employee wages, and so on. Hardware maintenance and replacement as technology advances also add to an organizations’ troubles.

Cloud Computing, through the cloud data centers, solves all these problems at once.

Third-party service providers take care of all provisions that you might need for hosting your data center (s). In exchange, they charge a nominal service fee, which is nothing in comparison to what physical data centers demand. Learn more about what is cloud computing.

Benefits Of Cloud Data Centers

Every day, more and more companies are adopting data center migration to cloud due to the benefits it offers. According to a Synergy Research Group report, spending on hardware and software to establish physical data centers has decreased to under 90 billion USD overall. On the other hand, spending on cloud deployments has increased from $25 billion to more than $125 billion since 2016, showing how speedily the market for cloud computing is growing.

The Major Benefits of Cloud Data Centers are:

●     Optimal use of computing resources through their secure sharing: Unlike on-premises hardware and software resources that are reserved for a single business’s own use, cloud-based systems ensure reasonable sharing of its components.

●     No unnecessary spending on hardware purchases and upgrades: As cloud deployment shares resources, no extra hardware purchases are required when companies wish to increase the size of their data center, reducing the overall expenditure on the data center.

●     Higher-level safety arrangement to avoid catastrophic data loss: Copies of data and applications are managed and updated for cloud systems regularly. This way, if there is a catastrophe that destroys one remote datacenter, your data will still remain intact.

●     No major investment; the subscription-based model keeps it cost-convenient: Businesses need to buy monthly or yearly plans to use cloud data center services, instead of putting down a lot of money upfront for physical data centers.

●     Larger data availability range, specifically for the remote users in the organization: Physical data centers sometimes restrict external access by adding IP constraints. However, cloud centers are generally login-based and can give your remote employees an easier way to work with them.

●     Quick deployment: As there is no physical construction, networking, or deployment, you can just choose a suitable service provider and a plan, to begin with, cloud data centers.

●     No need for keeping a big IT team for maintenance and security: Cloud service providers have their own teams to manage your data center.

●     Better services to clients across the globe through distributed servers: By choosing the virtual data centers located near to your customers’ geo-locations, you can improve the user experience for them by ensuring fast response times due to the proximity to the cloud servers.

●     Highly scalable and flexible IT infrastructure: In the case of cloud services, a plan upgrade will be enough when you want to scale. You won’t have to burden your organization with new hardware purchases, land contracts, and deployment professionals.

Data Centers and Ridge

Ridge has a globally distributed network of data centers to ensure cloud infrastructure agility and top-notch performance. Through a single API, the Ridge platform enables to  deploy cloud-native applications in any location and extend their hybrid and multi-cloud architectures globally

For years, local data centers provided customers with the most up-to-date capabilities and services. But the shift from IaaS to PaaS offerings put hyperscalers in the driver’s seat of the cloud computing market. They offer the managed services that are the building blocks for modern, cloud native applications.

While the hyperscale public cloud model is an attractive proposition for a large number of customers, there are many existing and planned use cases and business models for which the traditional local data centers are a better fit. The reasons vary —  in some cases, it’s the need for absolute separation of data. In other cases, it’s related to governance and regulations. And, sometimes, customers require customizations related to unique application architectures.

Ridge addressed this challenge with a new computing paradigm in which local data centers’ existing capacity is transformed into modern PaaS offerings. It accomplishes this by enabling data centers that have private cloud or virtual data center offerings to add modern, cloud-native PaaS services, such as managed Kubernetes, containers service, and object storage service.

These managed services — accessed through a single API — enable local data centers to offer customers cloud-native capabilities without needing the expertise to run the services themselves. Ridge’s web services also enable customers to connect with any legacy infrastructure and to customize a hybrid or multi-cloud architecture best suited to their requirements.

In addition, through Ridge’s managed services, data centers are able to federate their PaaS offerings with service providers from all over the world and become part of a global cloud infrastructure. In other words, customers can easily consume cloud services in as many local data centers as they need and achieve interoperability with their legacy architectures. They can build an optimized cloud strategy, in the location — or multiple locations — of their choosing.

Data Center FAQs

What is inside a data center?

A data center contains a network of networking, security, and storage equipment, including servers, routers, firewalls, switches, physical safety appliances, application delivery controllers, and different specialized equipment depending upon its usage.

Who uses data centers?

All businesses that require safeguarding their data or need to serve their customers and internal teams faster use data centers. Some companies use them to store critical static data or documents so that they load faster for users.

What is the difference between data center vs cloud?

A data center refers to the physical establishment that stores data and applications, whereas the cloud, is the computing method or technology that allows companies to use off-premise data or applications online.

What is in a data center facility?

Depending upon whether you are using a leased facility, an IT-managed facility, or a cloud or edge facility, its definition and contents will change. However, it refers to the services provided by your third-party service provider.

Is a data center a private cloud?

A data center could be a private cloud, a public cloud, a hybrid cloud, an edge computing-enabled geo-distributed cloud, or an on-premise data center, depending upon how it is designed, networked, and secured.

Why is data center security important?

Data centers generally keep confidential organizational data, crucial user data, and important applications that affect a business directly. Physical or cyber threats to any of these are troublesome for enterprises, so keeping it secure must be your (or your service provider’s) responsibility.

Where are cloud servers physically located?

Cloud servers have their servers and resources pooled in “server farms” located around the world. They host data and applications for various users and deliver them to authenticated users on demand. Depending on whether you are using a centralized or a decentralized data center, your data or applications could be present within one or multiple servers or server farms. You can learn more about this in our article on location in cloud computing.

Linkedin Rachel Grand, Content Writer | Ridge
Rachel spends her nights reading the stars and her days exploring the Cloud. As an expert in all things related to modern computing architectures, Rachel is helping Ridge to spread the gospel of the distributed cloud.