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What is a Data Center?

By David White
Updated May 16, 2024
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A data center is a computer system's most important and vulnerable component. At its most basic, it is a physical place that houses a computer network's most critical systems, including backup power supplies, air conditioning, and security applications. We're talking a large amount of data here, stored in a large number of computers.

A typical example of a company that almost certainly has a data center is a bank or other kind of financial institution. A bank's data center will have a mainframe or other kind of computer network, on which customers' account information and other data are stored. A university will also have a similar facility, which includes not only personal information about the university's employees and students, but also information on the university's buildings, construction projects, and physical and intellectual history.

These kinds of data centers contain information that is critical to the continued operation of the bank, university, or other business. Therefore, that data cannot be lost. Security measures surrounding such data centers are usually very strong, as are systems of climate control that keep the center's computer systems from malfunctioning. Data centers will also almost certainly contain backup computers or mirror drives that protect against massive data loss. Such backup computers or mirror drives are routinely dependent not only on electronic power but also on battery power, so that they can continue to function in the case of an interruption of electronic power.

Other kinds of data centers can be found in government institutions; companies that have multiple headquarters; and providers of electronic services such as television, mobile phones, and the like. A data center can also be a single computer, storing and accessing one company's or one person's critical data. Smaller centers usually have less complicated forms of data protection.

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Discussion Comments

By anon235949 — On Dec 21, 2011

@Simrin: That depends who you are offering commercials to. Regular infra size, server and LAN / WAN / Router Infra with proper backup and 24/7 alert technical teams are available to to assist your clients on board.

By burcidi — On Apr 05, 2011

I read an article just this week that listed the most expensive cities in the U.S. for data centers. Number one for most expensive on the list was New York City. Next on the list were San Francisco, Oakland and Boston. The cheapest place is Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The cheapest region is said to be Mid-America.

Do companies ever move entirely to a different state so that data center management is cheaper? What about to different countries? I know they often do this when production is cheaper somewhere else but they wouldn't do that for their data center, right?

By bear78 — On Apr 02, 2011

@simrin-- Hey there. I work for a company which provides security services for data centers and I'd say that the most important factor is probably location, followed by security and cost. The location has to do with security and cost anyway.

My number one recommendation to companies of all sizes is to select a location that is strategic for what the company does. It doesn't mean that it should be next to the physical company or that it should be in the middle of nowhere.

If you are worried about the cost of the data center, be careful when you are having the actual infrastructure built. Most people don't realize that it could cost more than the IT equipment. It should be the perfect size for your company, if it's too big, you will lose money; if it is too small, you will have problems when the company grows.

Also select a location where power is not expensive and where there are low tax rates. For security, you might want to hire a company to provide that for you, especially if you are working on home machines or if the employees bring in their personal computers to work. These would be my recommendations, good luck.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 31, 2011

If I have a small company with the potential to grow and decide to build a data center, which factors should I pay attention to? For example, is it location, or equipment or security? And how much money will I need to invest in a data center? I want to gain some idea of what to expect.

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