When it comes to data centres, what goes on inside these uninviting buildings can be mysterious. It’s not always clear what role they play in society, leading to incorrect rumours and myths.
Most people know two things: that data centres have something to do with the internet and they use a lot of power. Beyond that, misconceptions flourish and blossom up into a varied mixture of fact and fiction.
Here’s one truth – data centres are an integral part of the IT industry and are vital to our day-to-day lives. The internet and modern digital technologies are unable to function without the critical infrastructure they provide. So what are the most common misconceptions within the industry?
Data centres can be built anywhere
Data centres aren’t empty buildings with the sole purpose of housing servers. They are also not the most visible in our towns and cities, with most being tucked away on trading estates and brownfield sites.
They need what operators and investors call ‘Position, Power and Ping’, although the order of priority alters depending on the business model. Position is a location near to the customer, but it can also include access to skills, to land not subject to flooding or other hazards, to infrastructure and other organisations in the ecosystem.
Power is electricity and ping is connectivity. If these three criteria aren’t met, then it’s hard to justify any large scale commercial data centre build.
Data centres don’t employ anybody
Operating a data centre requires a team of highly trained engineers across a range of IT disciplines. Not to mention supporting team members working in sales, marketing and finance. These are jobs created directly by the data centre and they’re employees of the data centre itself.
Data centres generate jobs directly during construction and operation and indirectly in their supply and consumer communities. From design to decommissioning, they involve a complex and high value supply chain.
Additionally, Data centre customers will have their own in-house IT team handling their company’s hardware and ensuring the IT system delivers what the business needs. This is a whole other group of people employed as an indirect result of data centre operations.
And finally, some data centre customers will go beyond having their own IT team and outsource their hardware management to a third-party. There are whole businesses out there which exist as a result of opportunities created by data centre operations.
Data centres are just big sheds full of servers
Appearances can be misleading. While some data centres might look like simple industrial buildings, some have actually been awarded with architectural and technological prizes. Each year, an industry publication is on the lookout for those companies which push the boundaries when designing a place to store servers for tens, hundreds and even thousands of customer organisations worldwide.
More importantly, IT hardware comes with an elaborate support system so data centres house a huge amount of state-of-the-art technologies, telecommunications networks, cooling and ventilation systems, power conditioning and battery rooms to name a few.
Data centre architecture and operational design are specialised professions. Each building is unique and can cost hundreds of millions of pounds to construct. Even if it might look like a shed from the outside, each data centre supports a high value and complex global supply chain.
Data centres all do the same thing
While data centres typically handle digital data of some kind, each one does a lot of different things. There are many different data centre business models. Commercial providers present a varied amount of different offerings from wholesale colocation to cloud services, and facilities are designed and operated accordingly.
In the enterprise sector, there is a big difference between a data centre built for high performance computing (HPC), a hyperscale operator carrying out transactional services for brands such as Amazon, one for social media like Meta and an on-premises server room that supports corporate IT functions. The diversity is so big, that it’s been difficult to develop a one-size-fits-all standard for data centres.
The impact is clear
Data centres are vital for everyday operations. Everytime you connect to the internet, you’re connecting to a data centre. They stimulate technological development and R&D and provide the processing power for bioinformatics and medical research, so their role should not be underestimated.
There are many more misconceptions surrounding data centres, but it’s clear to see the impact they have on our everyday lives. There is much more to these buildings than meets the eye, and this will only become more evident as our reliance on the data centre industry keeps growing as the sector continues to thrive in 2022 and beyond.
– Originally written by Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO and Co-Founder of 4D Data Centres –