What are data centers and why are they important?

As the global tech and social media giants shift to cloud technology, you’ll hear the term “data center” a lot.

From Google, to Facebook, to Microsoft, perhaps every high-level tech company needs data center support. In the context of modern technology, it is safe to say that it would be impossible for a technology company to function without them. So what exactly are they and why are they so important?

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What is a data center?

A data center is basically a huge computer that stores and processes information. Any business or organization that manages its users’ data must need data centers. In other words, if you have an account on any website or have used the internet to search for anything, you are definitely taking up some space in a data center located in a corner of the world.

Data centers are typically referred to as singular entities, but are actually made up of racks, cabinets, cables, batteries, and backup generators in the event of a power failure. Because they store up to billions of megawatts of information, they also have cooling systems to keep them from overheating.

So, think of data centers as supercomputers that store all of your information online for you and millions of people around the world.

How did data centers come about?

While data centers are all the rage these days, these physical structures are not new inventions of the twenty-first century.

It is commonly believed that the first facility that can be considered a “data center” was built in 1946 in the United States. It was called ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) and was used by the US military to store defense codes and other critical information. The ENIAC was huge: it measured 1,800 square feet and weighed up to 30 tons.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as commercial computers began to gain popularity, large ENIAC-like computers began to appear on the market. Veteran IT company IBM was at the forefront of that infrastructure at the time. In 1964, IBM introduced the world’s first “supercomputer” called the CDC 6600. In retrospect, the supercomputer had all the characteristics of a data center.

But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the term “data center” was coined. With the Internet rapidly taking over the world, IT companies of the time felt the need to move their servers to dedicated computer rooms.

Where are the data centers located?

Data centers are everywhere around the world, but most, if not all, are located in areas free from natural disasters. Many are also close to a stable and reliable source of electricity to ensure better Internet connectivity. Proximity is also another important aspect: the closer a data center is to a company, the faster the company’s overall Internet speed will be.

When expanding overseas, data center companies also consider a country’s tax laws, the cost of water and electricity, and geopolitical risks as important factors.

As data center storage capacity increases, many companies have also begun to view security as a major concern. The availability of on-site security, such as surveillance cameras and security personnel, and software security for each individual component are now mostly up and running 24/7.

There are over 6,000 data centers in approximately 126 countries around the world, most of them in the United States.

The largest data center in the United States, which is also the largest in the world, is currently a 7.2 million square foot campus data center called The Citadel. It is located in Tahoe Reno, Nevada, and is home to data from some of the biggest names in business, including eBay, Amazon, HP, Boeing, and Bloomberg.

Who are the largest data center providers in the world?

First, when it comes to building data centers, there are three main types.

The first is corporate data centers. These are facilities owned and operated by the technology companies themselves. For example, Google, Microsoft, and IBM have corporate data centers in many parts of the world.

Next is the colocation data center. It is when a company rents a few racks of space from a data center company. Tech mega companies like Facebook also have colocation data centers in addition to corporate ones.

With cloud technology becoming more and more important in the world of technology, cloud data centers are also becoming more popular. Tech companies that have cloud computing businesses typically also operate cloud data centers. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are two examples.

Now that we know the different types of data centers, who are the top data center providers in the world?

Aside from the big names in tech we all know, some you should know about are NextDC, SpaceDC, Equinix, and Digital Realty. The first two are based in Australia and Singapore, respectively, while the latter two are founded in the United States.

Why are data centers important?

Data centers are important because, well, everyone uses data.

From individual users like you and me to multinational corporations, it is perhaps safe to say that everyone has likely used the services provided by data centers at some point in their life.

Related: Where Does the Internet Come From? Why can’t you make your own?

Whether it’s sending an email, shopping online, playing video games, or just casually browsing social media, every single byte of what you save online is stored in a data center. With remote working fast becoming the new normal, there is an even greater need for data centers.

For midsize and large enterprises, cloud data centers are fast becoming the preferred way of storing data. This is because they are much more secure than storing information with traditional hardware devices. Cloud data centers offer advanced security protection such as firewalls and backup components in the event of a security breach.

Data centers are the backbone of modern technology

Data centers are the lifeblood that keeps our digitized world moving forward. So the next time you hear that a new data center is being built near you, be excited, because it means our world just got a little more connected.


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