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What is a Data Center? - Data Center Fundamentals

By Mike Netzer · 6/18/2020

We dive into the fundamentals of a data center and give a basic overview for anyone who is looking to get into the industry.

This is an episode of HawkPodcast, datacenterHawk’s viewpoints on the data center industry. If you enjoyed this episode, you can check them all out on our blog. If you’d like to know when we release future episodes, you can subscribe here.

On this podcast, David and I are going over the first of eight topics on data center fundamentals. We covered this in a blog series as well as an email course. Today, we answer the question “What is a data center?” and discuss some of the defining characteristics of this real estate class.

A data center is a facility that houses digital infrastructure. That’s the most basic definition that we could build to answer that question. Data centers are unique buildings with unique purposes. As such, people care about several unique aspects that you won’t always find in other commercial real estate assets classes.

Location & Risk Mitigation

A data center’s location is important. Every region comes with its own hazards and data centers are designed to mitigate the risks associated within that region. Most are built to withstand winds of 125+ mph, high scale earthquakes, and are located outside of flood plains.

Power Consumption is the Key Metric

Data centers consume 3% of our world’s electricity, and the best way to understand a data center’s size is to recognize how much power is being utilized at the site. Data centers can be measured in square footage but are more accurately measured in power. Servers consume power at a relatively consistent rate, meaning the overall power needs of a data center is a more accurate indicator of the size of a facility. A single rack of servers in a data center consumes between 2-10 kilowatts (kW) of power, while the entire data center facility can consume between 5-75 megawatts (MW).

Connectivity Matters

A well connected data center includes a high number of fiber providers located at the site, which provides a company flexibility with the fiber providers they want to use for the business operations.

Cooling Is A Concern

Servers produce a significant amount of heat. Temperature control is one of the primary limiting factors on how large a data center can be. In theory, power providers can deliver hundreds of megawatts to a data center, but a data center’s size is limited by the amount of power it can cool. It’s standard for a data center’s cooling capacity to range from 2-10 kW per rack, but new technology is now allowing organizations to achieve higher densities with their footprint.

High Availability Through Redundancy

Having systems in place to handle a negative equipment event is critical for data center success. Data centers typically have redundant transformers, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), backup generators, and cooling systems to keep the facility online at all times.

Meeting Compliance For Multiple Industries

Most industries have strict methods, procedures, and standards around operations. This also applies to how they store their data, meaning a data center must meet that industry’s requirements for a company to use it. Data center compliance focuses on a range of subjects, but often involve the security, redundancy, and operational risk of a data center.

Top Tier Security

Planning to reduce risk also means securing a data center from man-made hazards. Most of these facilities are surrounded by high-grade perimeter fencing with controlled access gates. Inside, 24/7 security personnel, man-trap entrances, biometric scanners, card key access and floor to ceiling steel caging all help to ensure a company’s data center environment is well protected.

More Expensive Than Office Space

Data centers require a high degree of specialization and design, which leads to a higher cost to build and operate a data center. Traditional estimates are 10 times more expensive than traditional office space.

We also talked about…

  • The increasing amount of capital being invested in the data center industry
  • David’s ranking of sparkling water flavors
  • How horrible the watermelon flavor of La Croix is
  • Vince Lombardi’s famous “This is a football” speech
  • Crossfit…. of course
  • How fiber optic cables work and how they differ from copper cables

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our HawkPodcasts and don’t miss out on our latest release of market data for the data center industry.

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