In an industry that evolves as quickly as tech, it’s easy to see why people become lost in a world of buzzwords. Data centres, cloud, colocation, hosted desktop, virtual machines… aren’t they all just the same thing? Well, not quite. But they all have one thing in common, and that’s data centres. It wouldn’t be fair to say that none of these technologies could exist without data centres, because some of them could be deployed on premise, but at scale, the data centre is not only the key component of these technologies, but they’re the backbone of the internet. Without data centres, in essence, there’s nowhere to store the data.
What is a data centre?
A data centre is a network of computing and storage resources that enables the delivery of shared software applications and data. In layman's terms, it’s a warehouse full of servers connected to the internet. Without data centres, there’s no data. Without connectivity, there’s no sharing.
Let’s get this into perspective. Although there has never been any official figures released, Gartner estimated that Google has 2.5 million servers - and that was back in 2016. All of those servers sit in data centres across the globe, and store the trillions of pages of information that make it possible for us to run queries and yell - “Hey Google! What time does Tesco close today?”
Microsoft has over 100 data centres around the world that make up it’s Azure network, AWS spans 66 availability zones within 21 geographic regions globally and while Facebook keeps its cards close to its chest, it was estimated in 2018 that the company had nearly 15 million square feet of data centre space completed or under construction, with several million more feet in the planning stages.
So what’s all this got to do with cloud computing?
It’s a sign of the times, known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but essentially technology has fundamentally changed the way we live and work and to that end, we’re all engaging with cloud computing throughout our daily lives. Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of a resource. Anything that’s delivered to us “as-a-service”. Anything that you don’t have to physically store in your office or home, but can still access whenever you need to via the internet. Think email, Dropbox, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Google Drive, SharePoint… all of these on demand services are cloud services, and all of the data that is served to us, is stored in data centres.
From the moment we wake up, from swiping our Oyster cards, paying for our morning coffee through contactless pay, checking our Facebook while we wait for the train, listening to Spotify on the drive into work, checking our emails, collaborating with colleagues on documents through Google Drive and SharePoint, running meetings through Skype or Microsoft Teams, to getting home and flopping on the sofa in front of the TV, each of us has multiple touch points with a data centre somewhere in the world. When you throw on the latest Netflix Originals series, that boxset is being served to you from an AWS data centre.
Energy, lighting, telecommunications, internet, transport, traffic, banks, security systems, public health, entertainment…. all controlled by data centres.
So as you can see, the data centre's role in all of this is pivotal. Data centres house a network's most critical systems, and are vital to the continuity of daily operations.
The only real difference between a data centre and the cloud, is that a data centre refers to on-premise hardware (servers sat in a warehouse) while the cloud refers to off-premise computing (the data being served to you over the internet so that you can swipe and pay your tube fare, or read that all important contract).
Which is why the physical and digital security and integrity, and the resilience of data centres is so crucial in keeping these services running and preventing everything from public transport and banking, to energy supply and businesses, up and running around the clock.
You can read more about the importance of data centre security here.
So the next time you’re grabbing a coffee while you dash for the train while listening to Spotify through your headphones and checking your emails…. think about the data centres churning away in the background to make all of this possible.