What is data centre Infrastructure?

29 September 2023

In simple terms, data centre infrastructure is the physical resources and components that make up a data centre. Data centre infrastructure can be used privately by a business or organisation, to run their IT, but it also forms the basis of the global internet that we all take for granted today. 

To fully understand what the data centre infrastructure is we need first learn about what a data centre is and how it works.

What is a data centre?

A data centre is a physical location housing computing and networking equipment to collect, process and store data which is critical to the needs of a business. It also enables resources such as applications to be accessed or distributed.

The security and reliability of any data centre should be in the list of an organisation’s top priorities.  SCT is committed to providing outstanding levels of service delivery and has a track record in delivering exceptional IT services with security-cleared engineers, enabling us to support you whilst you support your clients.

What systems can a data centre operate? 

A data centre can run all your organisation’s IT systems such as those which provide email and file sharing; productivity applications; Customer Relationship Management (CRM); big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; virtual desktops, communications and collaboration services; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and databases.

How data centre infrastructure has evolved

Data centre infrastructures are purely physical environments, with cloud computing the perception of this has changed over time, however the data centres are still very much a physical environment. Modern infrastructures have evolved with more people needing remote resources and businesses needing less onsite expensive hardware. The technology around virtual desktop and servers has allowed one physical server to host multiple virtual desktops, with the hardware redundancy built in to allow less downtime in the eventuality of system fault. This virtual world is also easily scalable for growth or even just in busy business periods. This virtual world is easily scalable for business growth or even just in busy business periods when compute demand is needed quickly.

Often the new ‘data centre’ set up will actually utilise multiple physical data centres in addition to private, public and hybrid clouds. That said, the public cloud is, in fact, a collection of data centres. When applications are hosted in the cloud, they are actually using data centre resources operated by the cloud provider.

The traditional on-site data centre

The traditional ‘on-site’ data centre will need either an in-house team or an external IT provider which offers data centre services, such as SCT, to oversee maintenance, IT deployments, hardware upgrades and network monitoring. By using an external IT provider, you don’t have the pain and worry of running your data centre infrastructure. There is still a lot of work and requirement that goes into looking after the data centre such as; power, aircon, security, access and communication.

Moving from in-house to the cloud

Utilising the cloud isn’t always considered as utilising a data centre, but it is simply an off-premises facility that allows your organisation to have access to your systems via the internet, though you don’t have the responsibility for maintaining the related infrastructure.

It is also possible to rent space in a managed, secure environment for your organisation’s own servers and hardware. This can be beneficial as the facility will be responsible for providing the power, internet bandwidth, heating, ventilation and air conditioning as well as the physical security, saving you some of the headache.

What is the impact of cyber security on a data centre?

Security devices are essential throughout an organisation’s network to ensure that it is as prepared to identify and prevent a cyber attack as possible.  Firewalls are one of the most well-known.  Originally designed as a filter between a private internal network and the public internet, they aim to only allow good data in.  A good firewall should include the following features:

  • Intrusion Protection Systems (IPS) proactively monitor the traffic going through your network
  • Unified Threat Management (UTM) which combines a number of tools to manage threats
  • Network Access Control ensuring infected or insecurely configured endpoint devices are kept off the corporate network
  • Web Application Firewalls (WAF) selectively allow or block traffic based on predefined criteria or suspicious activity
  • VPN Gateways (virtual private networks) ensure remote employees’ data traffic has end to end encryption to and from the corporate network and gives them more secure access to remote printers, Intranet sites and other internal devices

What constitutes the infrastructure required for an effective data centre? 

In simple terms, it is all of the physical elements that are required for your IT systems to run smoothly.  Alongside the expected computer elements, both hardware and software, there are also critical non-computing components required to run an effective data centre.

Data Storage systems

  • Network attached storage (NAS) which provides storage and retrieval of data from a central location for authorised network users irrespective of the type of processors or core within their devices
  • Solid state drives (SSD) (also referred to as flash arrays) which are more resistant to physical shock than hard disk drives, run silently, and have higher input/output rates
  • Tape storage tends to be cheaper when stored correctly, they can last longer than hard or solid-state drives. Recovery times are longer, however; they need to be kept in pristine environments and the required marking, recording and testing can be tedious and time-consuming. The offsite storage of your tapes can be very costly, and sometimes storing them offsite is a legal requirement.

Server infrastructure components

  • Rack servers usually have standard dimensions so that administrators can install them within a standard rack enclosure.  A rack can fit several servers stacked and screwed into the metal enclosure
  • Blade servers are modular servers that allow multiple servers to be housed in an even smaller area and are therefore often used in large data centres
  • Tower servers can be effective and don’t require as much cooling so are often used by smaller enterprise but they don’t offer the flexibility of rack and blade servers

Network infrastructure

  • Routers primarily guide and direct your data between networks, enable the use of the internet by your entire team and can also allow them access to items such as printers and copiers
  • Switches are used to connect devices on the same network
  • Hardware firewalls are designed to protect an organisation’s network boundary and will be deployed in what’s called ‘inline mode’
  • Other security appliances

Software components

  • Software firewalls are used to prevent unauthorised access to your systems
  • Many of the hardware security components are also available as additional software options
  • Email Security Gateways to monitor email traffic for spam, viruses, phishing attempts, and compromised accounts
  • Network Device Backup and Recovery - an essential, automated and centralised option to backup and recover network devices preventing critical data loss

Non-computing components

  • Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) which might include back-up generators and power subsystems
  • Ventilation, humidity regulation and cooling systems
  • Fire suppression
  • Connections to external networks
  • Cable management - an important consideration. If cables are too near to each other this can generate excessive heat and they can cause cross-talk, which can slow down data transfer rates and transmission. 

Having the right data centre infrastructure is essential to the connection, integration and smooth running of any organisation’s core IT needs.  It will be necessary to have either in-house personnel or an external partner organisation to monitor any data-centre to ensure it is is effective.

How can you ensure your data centre is managed effectively?

Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is a system that will monitor all the physical attributes of your data centre, ensuring optimal performance. In addition to monitoring, DCIM will discover and report any issues and will automatically feedback to Operation Managers who are in control of the data centre.

Usually operated by some form of DCIM software, this will need to be overseen by individuals that understand the implications of any issues which are reported.

It is essential that managers of data centres are confident that they are utilising the most up to date and efficient products. SCT are able to assist with the maintenance and support of our customers' data centres by delivering tailor-made solutions to meet their specific needs.