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What is a Data Centre?
9 July 2014
What is a data centre?

The UK’s number of Data Centres has grown rapidly over the last ten years and it currently has the most Data Centre capacity of any country in Europe. In fact, by the close of 2014 there is set to be 650, 000 square metres of Data Centre floor space in the UK, according to TCL’s figures.*

With such a growing industry, it is important to ascertain exactly what a Data Centre is. And potentially, why your business or your department should have one.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a data centre as: A large group of networked computer servers, typically used by organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.

Indeed, a data centre is a dedicated space where companies can keep and operate most of the ICT infrastructure that supports their business. The space includes: servers and storage equipment, which run application software and process and store the data and content.

What sorts of businesses need a Data Centre?

The boom of data centres came during the dot-com bubble. Companies needed fast Internet connectivity and non-stop operation. Many companies started building very large facilities, called Internet data centers (IDCs), which provided businesses with a range of solutions for systems deployment and operation. Namely, to control their IT resources and systems.

Data Centres have grown in size, popularity and status, with the growing importance of IT in today’s business management and processes. The size of the company will determine whether they need a simple cage rack or perhaps a room full of cabinets.

What is the layout of a Data Centre?

All Data Centres need cabling in order to feed power to the various cabinets and racks. Some achieve this via a raised floor, which houses the cabling ducts underneath. Others are built on solid slab, and so cabling and power cables are fed from above the racks.  

The data centre environment is controlled in terms of temperature and humidity, in order to ensure performance and the operational integrity of the systems. Whilst data centres can be in-house and located in the business’ own facility, they can also be outsourced and placed on a third party site.

The Telecommunications Industry Association's TIA-942 Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers, specifies the minimum requirements for telecommunications infrastructure of data centers and computer rooms.

Telcordia GR-3160, NEBS Requirements for Telecommunications Data Center Equipment and Spaces, provides guidelines for data center spaces within telecommunications networks, and environmental requirements for the equipment intended for installation in those spaces. These criteria were developed jointly by Telcordia and industry representatives.

So, are there any advantages to having a data centre?

The data centre is imperative to the successful running of any modern business or enterprise. Benefits include:

  • An extremely secure environment for servers - prepared for the eventuality of power cuts. A data centre has an enormous bank of batteries and generators that will keep the electricity flowing indefinitely whilst the outage is fixed
  • Incredibly secure storage of important data - data centres are very difficult to break into or damage in any way
  • Cost reduction - A consolidated environment means businesses need less hardware overall
  • Modernity – keeping up with the times on IT security, standards, capacity and more

How to build a Data Centre?

In order to house a data centre it is important that special arrangements are made for the high concentration of server resources and network infrastructure involved. Therefore the following areas need to be addressed:

  • Power capacity
  • Cooling capacity
  • Cabling infrastructure
  • Temperature and humidity controls
  • Fire and smoke systems
  • Physical security – restricted access and surveillance systems
  • Rack space and raised floors

If the above are not addressed in a sufficient manner then major risks can become present:

  • Server failure
  • Undetected smoke that can lead to fire incidents
  • Ineffective monitoring of behaviour of onsite individuals
  • High level management staff can be in danger
  • Ineffective employee notification systems during emergencies
  • Equipment malfunctions in individual machine cabinets due to microenvironment conditions
  • Network connection failures
  • External hackers

How is data centre infrastructure performance evaluated?

UpTime institute created the standard Tier classification system as a way to effectively evaluate data centre infrastructure in relation to the business’ requirements. The Tier classification system provides the data centre industry with a consistent method to compare unique, customised facilities based on expected site infrastructure performance or uptime. This Tier method also enables companies to align their data centre infrastructure investment with their business goals. The different level tiers are stated below;

Tier 1 – Non Redundant – Dedicated data centre infrastructure beyond office setting

Tier 1 infrastructure provides an improved environment in comparison to an office setting and includes a dedicated space for IT systems. Industries such as; real estate agencies, hospitality, lawyers and accountants will benefit from this tier.

Tier 2 – Basic Redundant – Power and cooling systems have redundant capacity components

Tier 2 infrastructure solutions include redundant critical power and cooling components to provide an increased margin of safety against IT processes. The redundant components are typically; extra UPS modules, chillers or pumps and engine generators. This type of equipment can experience failures due to manufacturing defects, installation or operation errors. Institutional and educational organisations normally select Tier 2 because there is no meaningful tangible impact of disruption due to data centre failure.

Tier 3 – Concurrently maintainable – No shutdowns for equipment replacement and maintenance.

Tier 3 site infrastructure adds the capability of concurrent maintenance to Tier 2 solutions. Therefore a redundant delivery path for power and cooling is added to the redundant critical components of Tier 2. Organisations who select this Tier typically have high availability requirements for ongoing business or have noticed a significant cost of disruption due to a planned datacentre shutdown.

Tier 4 – Fault Tolerant – Withstand a single, unplanned event.

Tier 4 site infrastructure builds on Tier 3 adding the concept of fault tolerance to the site infrastructure topology. Organisations who select Tier 4 are those who have high availability requirements for ongoing business or that experienced a large amount of disruption from the data centre shutdown.

How long do Data Centres last?

Data centers currently last no more than 7 years before they are considered out of date, as per Green Computing norms. However, in practice, the average life of a data center is considered to be more like 9 years.

The Google Data Centre

Google has around 16 data centers throughout the world. As per the recent estimate conducted by Microsoft, Google has around 900,000 servers in all its data centers and they use around 260 million watts of power, which accounts to 0.01% of global energy. This power is enough to consistently power 200,000 homes in America.

The Future of the Data Centre?

Despite the UK leading the way in Europe, and in London specifically, the future of data centres are yet to change. Companies such as Google have moved their data centres to Lapland, and the likes of Microsoft and Amazon have moved theirs to Dublin. This is for cost saving purposes but also due to the cool climates found in those areas, which can only be beneficial to the heat-producing Data Centre.

Further down the line, we can expect to see data centres being moved to data centre parks, where their close proximity to renewable energy sources will be favourable, due to the lower energy prices.

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Networks Centre distributes a wide range of data centre products, please explore the following;

  • Prism Cabinets
  • A selection of PDU's
  • Cat6a
  • Cable Containment

A typical Data Centre within networking infrastructure

Written by Emma Flanagan

Networks Centre distributes the largest range of Fibre Optic CableCopper Cable and Networking Solutions in the UK. Our complete range of end-to-end systems are available from world-leading brands. We stock PanduitSiemonBrand-RexFluke NetworksPrism EnclosuresSumitomo and many more. Speak to our Sales Account Managers today on 01403 754 233 or email