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What is a Data Centre?

A data centre is a network of computing and storage resources enabling the delivery of shared software applications and data. In the world of enterprise IT, the data centre supports business applications. These range from simple email and file sharing, through to customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to Big Data, communications and collaboration services. 

How a data centre works

The core components of a data centre are as follows:

  • Network infrastructure that connects servers (including virtualised servers), data centre services, storage, and external connectivity to end-user locations
  • Storage infrastructure that provides storage arrays to store the ‘fuel’ of the data centre – data
  • Computing resources – the servers that provide processing, memory, local storage, and network connectivity for the ‘engines’ of the data centre – applications

Data centre services are typically deployed to protect the performance and integrity of the core data centre components. This layer can include:

  • Network security – such as firewall and intrusion protection, to safeguard the ‘fuel’ and ‘engines’ of the data centre
  • Application delivery – providing application resiliency and availability, via automatic failover, and load balancing to maintain application performance

All of these elements reside in one place, where physical racks and cabling are used to organise and interconnect them.

The facility itself provides power distribution and subsystems including electrical switching, uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) and backup generators, as well as adequate ventilation, environmental controls, and fire suppression. It also provides physical security, including access control.

Infrastructure evolution – from mainframes to cloud applications

Computing infrastructure has experienced three macro ‘waves of evolution’ over the last 65 years:

  • The first wave saw the shift from proprietary mainframes to x86-based servers, based on premises and managed by internal IT teams.
  • A second wave saw widespread virtualisation of the infrastructure that supported applications. This allowed for improved use of resources and mobility of workloads across pools of physical infrastructure.
  • The third wave finds us in the present, where we are seeing the move to cloud, hybrid cloud and cloud-native. The latter describes applications born in the cloud.

Distributed network of applications

This evolution has given rise to distributed computing. This is where data and applications are distributed among disparate systems, connected and integrated by network services and interoperability standards to function as a single environment. It has meant the term ‘data centre’ is now used to refer to the department that has responsibility for these systems irrespective of where they are located.

Organisations can choose to build and maintain their own hybrid cloud data centres, lease space within co-location facilities (colos), consume shared compute and storage services, or use public cloud-based services. The net effect is that applications today no longer reside in just one place. They operate in multiple public and private clouds, managed offerings, and traditional environments. In this ‘multicloud’ era, the data centre has become vast and complex, geared to drive the ultimate user experience.

Infrastructure management tools

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