Datacenters: What businesses need to know

Datacenters, in the sense of a centralised space where business information is stored, have always been important, but as we move towards an increasingly digital economy, and indeed, way of life, they have taken on even greater significance. The importance of datacenters to our everyday actions can be glimpsed simply by taking a look at the amount of energy that they consume. According to the National Resource Defense Council, the Internet, which relies on datacenter infrastructure for its utility, represents 1.1 to 1.5 per cent of all global electricity use. With the associated annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to between 70 and 90 large coal-fired power plants.

For businesses, however, environmental concerns are just one aspect of datacenter usage. Primarily, they must ensure that their datacenter can deliver the level of service that their customers, clients and employees expect. With the growth of Internet technologies and cloud computing, the importance of managing your datacenter correctly has never been so high. For many firms, it could ultimately be the difference between success and failure.

How datacenters work

Essentially, a datacenter is a dedicated space where companies store their IT infrastructure. Far from simply storing digital documents and information, datacenters often contain the very foundations of your company’s IT output, from individual applications to entire operating systems. Depending on the business, a datacenter could be based locally as a single hardware rack, or take up several million square feet.

The physical appearance of a datacenter will vary slightly based on the specific hardware being used, but generally consists of a series of servers connected together. Datacenter managers will be tasked with ensuring the security and reliability of these servers. Increasingly, businesses access their datacenter over wireless communications, particularly with the growth of cloud computing and more firms choosing to use off-premise datacenters.

Do it yourself, managed hosting or colocation

For many businesses, the first decision to make when choosing a datacenter is whether to manage it themselves or outsource it to a third-party supplier. There are many reasons why an organisation may choose to manage their own datacenter, with freedom being high on the list. Running your own datacenter means that you will have complete control over the hardware and software being implemented, as well as any security protocols. Of course, this independence comes with added responsibility and may only be plausible for organisations that possess sufficient time and resources, or those with a small IT output.

Once businesses have decided to manage their own datacenters, they may then want to consider colocation as a potential option. With colocation, businesses still own and maintain all their datacenter hardware and software, but it is located in a facility that is owned by a third party. Businesses will purchase their own servers and network technology, for example, and then install it in the colocation provider’s datacenter. This is often viewed as a best-of-both-worlds approach, combining independence with cost and scalability benefits. In exchange for a monthly fee, the colocation provider will cover energy costs and physical security, while also allowing businesses to purchase more space if and when necessary. However, because the datacenter hardware remains under the ownership of the business, they can configure as they see fit.

However, this may not suit every business, particularly as organisations using colocation services will still be required to upgrade and maintain their own hardware. For firms that want to take full advantage of outsourcing, managed hosting is often preferred. 

Managed hosting is when a business outsources their IT infrastructure to a third party. Because a third-party will be supplying your IT services, some businesses may be worried about restrictions on the type of content they can host in the datacenter and security concerns may also arise. However, there is still some freedom when it comes to managed hosting. Businesses can choose how much of their IT infrastructure to host in an external datacenter, for example. They could reserve it just for disaster recovery or have their everyday applications and data hosted externally – the decision is up to each individual business.

Important datacenter considerations

Whichever approach businesses take to their datacenter, however, there are a number of important considerations that should always be taken into account.

  • Location – If you are managing your own datacenter , you’re likely to need one that can be easily accessed. Regular maintenance is important and being able to visit your datacenter easily in the event of disruption is vital. Conversely, if you are using a third-party vendor, the location of their datacenters are crucial to ensuring that you are meeting all data compliance regulations.
  • Security – datacenter security is a combination of both physical security (ensuring that only authorised personnel can access your hardware) and more technical solutions, such as encryption, firewalls, etc. Both approaches must be robust if you are to avoid costly data breaches.
  • Scalability – Datacenters should not only be suitable for your business at its present size, but must be able to accommodate growth. When outsourcing, scalability is usually straightforward, but organisations should still ensure that their datacenter contract allows for flexibility.
  • Reliability – Your datacenter may be the key to your entire IT infrastructure, so its reliability is vital. Businesses must devote enough time and resources to datacenter management, or alternatively, choose a supplier with an adequate service level agreement (SLA). Many datacenter operators now spread resources across multiple facilities to ensure that even if an entire datacenter is inoperable, businesses can remain online.

For modern businesses, the  datacenter is no longer an afterthought. Managing your datacenter effectively, or choosing the right host provider, can deliver fantastic business results, but when done poorly, it can cripple the productivity of your employees and bring your operations to a standstill. What’s more, with the amount of data being produced, stored and analysed increasing all the time and cloud computing continuing to grow in popularity, the datacenter will surely only grow in prominence in the years to come.

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