What Are Data Centers and How Do They Work?

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Businesses use the term “data center” without really defining exactly what they mean. Learn about what data centers are, what they do, and how they work.

You may have come across the term “data center” in a business’s description of its operations and services. But what exactly is a data center, and how do they work?

A data center is a centralized location (or multiple locations) filled with computer and networking equipment that collects, stores, processes, and distributes large amounts of information. Governments, businesses, and forward-thinking large universities operate data centers to provide computing and networking power, speed, and capacity to their operations.

Data centers, also sometimes referred to as “server farms,” typically contain racks and stacks of servers that allow many people to access data, applications, and software simultaneously and remotely. These don’t look like your average laptop or desktop; they don’t have individual monitors or keyboards. Data centers may keep keyboards and monitors in a control room for staff to monitor how the servers and other equipment are running, so they can swiftly address any failures or bottlenecks.

Data centers may also house large-capacity storage disks for backing up astonishing amounts of data that an organization needs to preserve and access.

Smaller organizations may call a single room their data center, where larger companies may own multiple data center buildings with hundreds of thousands of square feet of space. Data center infrastructure is carefully planned and mapped out to accommodate growth and the need to rearrange components like racks, servers, cabling, cable management, routers, and switches. Buildings housing data centers maintain the health of the network with appropriate cooling and ventilation, fans, fire safety and control, uninterruptible power supplies, backup generators and batteries, and various types of storage drives.

Businesses that rely on data centers want to keep services up and running 24/7. The physical security of the building itself is a critical part of the design of any data center. Huge data centers may have only a small staff attending to them, but they can provide access to information for millions of people. Large social media operations like Facebook, search engines like Google, and cloud services like Amazon and Microsoft maintain multiple enormous data centers scattered around the world to meet the ever-increasing demands of global users.

Some data centers provide only closed and private access due to security concerns, and others may use a hybrid of their own data storage and processing capacity and services in the cloud. Smaller businesses may opt for “co-location” services, where a single data center provides services to several different businesses, segregating their data for security as necessary.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms and APIs (application programming interfaces) to individuals, companies, and governments, on a metered pay-as-you-go basis. AWS’s version of virtual computers emulate most of the attributes of a real computer, including hardware central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) for processing; local/RAM memory; hard-disk/SSD storage; a choice of operating systems; networking; and include pre-loaded application software such as web servers, databases, and customer relationship management (CRM).

Data centers work by providing far more networking, storage power, and capacity than any single computer could ever do, and they enable many users to access data and software simultaneously. They allow governments, researchers, and businesses to process and store vast amounts of information quickly. Even though the physical components of servers and storage disks keep improving, allowing more data to pass through or reside on smaller parts, data centers have kept growing as more and more companies and organizations expand their networks.



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A large data center in Elk Grove Village at Busse Road and Devon Avenue is the home of a few entities, including ServerCentral Data Center DF-CH1. According to their official website (servercentral.com), the company has supported businesses such as FRESHBOOKS, cars.com, arstechnica, USG, shopify, Fanatics, Metra, ABN-AMRO, Basecamp, SAP, richrelevance, New Relic, and Outbrain. The company is also a certified AWS MSP partner, meeting top requirements in AWS Cloud Consulting.

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