How to Run Data Centers?

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By Vinay Khatri

Big companies are now struggling with outdated data centers. As per recent studies rolled out by a leading portal, requirements of data centers have become too massive but the outdated ones have become tremendously slow, which restrain them from becoming more cost-effective, receptive, and efficient. A lot of IT architects struggle to match the pace of business demands for better storage and computing resources. Hence, outdated data centers make it difficult for the users to enjoy the benefits of new techniques, newly introduced infrastructures, enhanced performance, economics, and above all improved user-experience.

Well, all these drawbacks show the need of reconsidering the ways to manage and design a data center.

However, there isn’t much need for building vast and expensive structures for proprietary hardware, a sustainable design with good storage capabilities will work easily, it will depend on your requirements though.

Read more to know the whole purpose of data centers and how they should be managed efficiently.

What are Data Centers?

In simple terms, data centers are physical spaces (buildings) created by giant corporations to house their computer systems and other components like storage systems. Data centers store critical applications and other information. The design of a data center is based on a network of storage as well as computing resources, which makes it possible to deliver data and applications.

A data center facility includes cooling systems, power subsystems, uninterrupted power supplies, fire suppression, ventilation, and backup generators.

The main components of a data center include switches, routers, servers, firewalls, storage systems, and application delivery controllers. All of these require a sustainable infrastructure to power the center’s hardware and software.

Understanding a Modern Data Center

Modern data centers are a lot different than the ones that existed a few years back. Now the infrastructure has drastically shifted from traditional physical servers to virtual networks that support applications and workloads over physical infrastructure and a multi-cloud environment.

Nowadays, the data is connected over several data centers through private and public clouds. The data center must communicate well through these sites, be it on-premises or in the cloud. Applications use data center resources while they are hosted in the cloud.

Why are Data Centers Important for Businesses?

In the world of information technology, data centers are set up to support business applications like:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Email and file sharing
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) and databases
  • Productivity applications
  • Artificial intelligence & machine learning
  • Virtual computers, communication, and collaboration facilities

Main Components of a Data Center

As mentioned earlier, the basic components of a data center include switches, firewalls, servers, routers, etc., and these are responsible for managing and storing business-critical applications and data. Also, security, efficiency, and reliability are critical factors when it comes to designing a data center. The security measures implemented using both hardware and software hold significant importance for any data center.

However, when all attributes of a data center come together, as a whole it provides:

  • Storage infrastructure: Different storage systems are necessary to store data, which acts as fuel in the modern data center. Storage refers to solid-state drives, magnetic tapes as well as multiple backups.
  • Network infrastructure: Network infrastructure works to connect servers, storage, data center services, and external connectivity with end-user locations. Simply talking, it is the connection between various data center components and the outside world.
  • Computing resources: Applications act as the engines in a data center. These high-end servers offer the local storage, memory, and processing power along with network connectivity to run the applications.

Besides technical equipment, a Data Center also needs a proper amount of facilities to ensure smooth functioning of hardware as well as software.

How Does a Data Center Operate?

Data Center services are usually deployed to secure the integrity and performance of various data center components. The services of data centers can be divided into two general categories –

  1. Network Security Appliances – It includes firewall protection to keep the data center safe from any kind of intrusion from harmful elements.
  2. Application Delivery Assurance – This process aims to maintain the applications’ performance while providing application resiliency and availability through load balancing and failover.

Types of Data Centers

The classification of the data centers relies on several factors like whether they are owned by a single or multiple organizations, the technologies a data center utilizes for storage & computing, the way data centers fit into the topology along with its energy efficiency.

Based on the above factors, data centers can be classified into four categories –

1. Enterprise data centers

These types of data centers are constructed, owned, and managed by companies while being optimized for the end-users. They are mostly built on corporate campuses.

2. Colocation data centers

When a company rents space in a data center owned by someone else and located far from the company’s premises, these types of data centers are called colocation data centers.

3. Managed services data centers

Managed services data centers are purely managed and operated by a third party on behalf of the firm. The equipment and infrastructure are leased by the companies from a managed services provider.

4. Cloud data centers

Cloud data centers are a type of off-premises data center where applications and data must be hosted by a cloud services provider like Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, IBM Cloud, etc.

Data Center Architecture

Any big firm is likely to have multiple data centers located in different regions. This provides flexibility to a company to back up its data and ensure the protection of the data against man-made or natural disasters like terrorist attacks, droughts, floods, etc. How the data center is architected requires few important key considerations like:

  • How much is geographic diversity needed?
  • Is there a need for mirrored data centers?
  • What is the required amount of time to recover during an outage?
  • Should we lease a private data center or opt for a managed service?
  • How much room is needed for expansion?
  • Is there any preferred carrier?
  • The power and bandwidth requirements
  • The kind of physical security that is needed

The above queries will help determine the number of data centers that are required for a business, along with their location. For instance, if a financial firm located in Manhattan needs to ensure continuous operations as an outage would cost millions. So, the company would need to set up two data centers in close proximity, which become mirror sites for each other. Therefore, if in case one data center gets shut down, the company can run another without any loss of operations.

Besides, a small company doesn’t need a huge data center and can set up a small facility in the office itself to access any data or keep a backup in an alternate site. In case of an outage, the company would need to recover the data, but it wouldn’t be so urgent as the business isn’t dependent on real-time data for competitive benefits.

Therefore, companies can have their own data centers irrespective of their size and industry.

How to Run a Data Center

Building an efficient data center is not so complicated. Below are the 8 basic things that you should follow while running or building a data center for your business:

1. Stay Modular

The infrastructure of a data center is getting complicated year by year due to the emergence of new and advanced technologies, thereby creating a mess of incompatible consoles and frameworks throughout the network, storage silos, and servers. Therefore, switching to a more modular design will provide flexibility and simplicity while allowing IT architects to add or delete building blocks whenever needed.

In the past few years, modularization has evolved from gigantic shipping containers consisting of equipment to more compact racks.

Therefore when building blocks are added or removed from infrastructure to meet the demand of resources while avoiding over-provisioning, true modularization occurs. The best approach is to use only one appliance that unites the storage and compute tiers. The modules are interoperable and highly scalable and streamline the entire data center management with just one console. This reduces the burden of overworked data center admins.

2. Software-driven is better

Gone are the days of expensive and specialized hardware in data centers. Specialized hardware isn’t so portable and flexible. Also, most of them are powered by application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) or field-programmable gate arrays that don’t come with new software abilities demanded by the latest data centers.

The separation of policy intelligence and runtime logic from the underlying hardware and its abstraction to the distributed software layer facilitates it to be centrally controlled and automated. This further allows data center admins to supply new services without the addition of any new hardware, which saves money and provides agility.

Also, distributed applications improve uptime, scalability and offer continuous service even during site failures.

3. Try to Converge more

A lot of enterprises are shifting to converged data center infrastructures as it uses fewer resources thus proving to be more affordable and efficient. Storage convergence began more than a decade ago with the migration of hard disk drives from servers to shared storage arrays connected through faster networks.

Recently, flash memory has also been introduced to enterprise storage devices for creating hybrid storage solutions, which are a million times faster than legacy architectures.

Instead of having specialized devices for storage and computing, the functions can be put together into one single appliance. The data center is then constructed with a one resource tier that consists of all the server and storage resources required to support any application or workload.

It helps in improving scalability without spending on extra hardware or faster networking equipment.

4. Go for commodity hardware

Google has grown its web search and various cloud services with low-cost commodity hardware that runs distributed software. This innovative method facilitates quick scalability with the lowest investment. Many traditional enterprises get stuck in an expensive cycle of upgrading their hardware every 3-5 years while replacing it with the latest and costlier equipment in the data center. However, nowadays, they can receive similar benefits by using commodity hardware.

A distributed software layer helps in abstracting all the resources throughout various clusters of commodity nodes offering bundled capacity that surpasses even the strongest monolithic approach.

5. Empowering end-users

Today, data centers are more reliable and resilient than they have ever been. A data center should not only handle the data requirements of a traditional enterprise but also meet the ever-increasing demands of applications like virtual desktop infrastructures as well as employees carrying handheld devices wherever they go. To tackle IT’s consumerization, admins are shifting to end-user computing models in which applications, desktops, and data are centralized in the data center and accessed by employees through any device at any location.

6. Hybrid is better

Several enterprises prefer to use the public cloud but keep business-critical applications limited to a private data center. However, to meet all the varying needs effectively, big corporations use hybrid cloud solutions.

Amazon Web Services and many others offer public clouds which provide on-demand supply as well as resources across various tenants. This is possible even with the private clouds, but they are mostly controlled by the data center management team and allow better control over performance, security, and service level agreements. Making use of hybrid cloud environments means enjoying the best of both worlds.

7. Break Down Silos

As the complexity and functionality of the data centers increases, it results in the formation of technology silos that are managed by a special team. For instance, one team controls the data management and the data archive of the storage silo while the other team manages the server, networking, and virtualization silos. However, when you use a combination of appliances, you don’t require separate teams for managing each technology.

When the technologies are integrated well into a single unit, it reduces the requirement for specialized staff.

8. Focus on continuous service

Consumerization has thoroughly changed user’s expectations. In case of any interruption or latency issues, users will consider using unauthorized cloud-based services. To provide 100 percent availability, admins need to be more proactive and emphasize service continuity more than disaster recovery. It signifies building data centers in a way that they are highly available, which means having more bandwidth.

Enterprises must re-architect their applications that require distribution. It facilitates improved scalability, excellent performance, and increased uptime. This model has proved very successful for giant corporations like Facebook, Google, and Amazon.


To stand out and be competitive, enterprises must learn to rapidly adapt to evolving business environments. They must increase the storage capacity and data computing while adding new capabilities but remaining inexpensive. Therefore, Data Centers must be built and run in a smart way.

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