Data Centre Infrastructure

Data centre infrastructure includes all of the physical components contained in a data centre environment. If it's physically inside or forms the physical structure of a data centre facility, then it's data centre infrastructure.

What Does a Data Centre Consist Of?

Within a data centre, there is roughly two types of infrastructure: components that are core to the operations of the facility, and infrastructure in place designed to support that core IT infrastructure. Computers and servers are in the former group, whilst cooling equipment, electricity, foundation, etc. are the latter.

What are the Physical Components of a Data Centre?

Let's work from the outside in. Most data centres are in physical structures of some kind, like a building. This is not true of all of them though, as some data centres are located in underground bunkers or under water. Most data centres are in office buildings or other similar edifices.

The physical building often may not contain windows, although it sometimes will have an opening to let in enough air to help prevent IT and computing equipment from getting too hot. HVAC equipment is often found on the roof, and sometimes a data centre will have a solar array or windmills for electricity generation.

Many data centres are designed to physically withstand major acts of nature such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, typhoons, blizzards, heat waves, etc. Many data centre buildings are constructed out of durable materials like steel-reinforced concrete for this reason.

A data centre can consist of a single floor, or more often multiple floors within the building. Some facilities have a raised floor architecture, which means there is a gap in between the true floor and the floor that contains additional IT equipment; this gap then contains electrical wiring, cabling, cooling equipment and other resources needed to help support the continual functioning of the core computing equipment. A benefit of raised floor architecture is more effective use of vertical space along with greater availability of connectivity and cooling infrastructure.

Access to the floors is typical guarded by locked doors and overseen by security infrastructure (like cameras and alarms) along with security personnel. Further, depending on the type of facility in question, a data centre may have separate, locked server rooms.

Data Centre Hardware

The core computing equipment found in a standard data centre is the server, which serves as the central computing infrastructure within the data centre. Servers are typically stored in racks and cabinets.

Cabling connects servers to one another and to a wider network such as the internet. Many racks contain routers for a similar purpose. Most data centres have robust connectivity infrastructure, including close access to fibre optic cabling, for optimal connectivity for servers.

Powering a Data Centre

Data centres also contain electrical infrastructure to power servers and other pieces of equipment. In addition to ample electrical plugs for servers and wiring to connect the data centre to the wider municipal electrical grid, most data centres contain backup electrical infrastructure. Backup generators (along with fuel for the generators) are common within data centre environments, as are solar panels and wind-powered turbines.

Cooling a Data Centre

To ensure servers and other pieces of computing infrastructure remain at an optimal temperature and don't overheat, the vast majority of data centres contain some amount of cooling infrastructure (plus the infrastructure needed to keep the cooling infrastructure functioning and running smoothly). This can include everything from fans and HVAC equipment like air conditioning units to pipes containing outside cold water than run alongside warmer infrastructure to cool it down.

Who Manages Data Centre Infrastructure?

The vast majority of data centres employ a data centre operations manager, or someone with a similar title; often a data centre will have a team of managers in place. Data centre operations managers are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all of the infrastructure within a data centre. They also often design and implement standards and best practices to ensure infrastructure is maintained well, always functioning and will be upgraded in an effective and timely manner.

Data centre operations teams will often leverage data centre infrastructure management solutions to complete the core functions of their job. According to Gartner, "Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools monitor, measure, manage and/or control data centre utilization and energy consumption of all IT-related equipment (such as servers, storage and network switches) and facility infrastructure components (such as power distribution units [PDUs] and computer room air conditioners [CRACs])."

In addition to this core team, many data centres employ specialists to ensure specific infrastructure is maintained and updated regularly. For example, a data centre will have a dedicated HVAC team - employed directly by the data centre owner or brought on site as a contractor - to ensure air conditioning units are functioning well and repaired if necessary.

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