What is a data center?

A data center, or data center, is the space in which all the equipment used to run the information systems of a company is concentrated… or of several, if they are customers of a cloud provider, for example. .

What is a data center?

A data center, or data center, is a space in which the equipment used to run information systems – routers, servers, storage bays, central computers, etc. – is concentrated. Their combination makes it easier to manage this equipment, which is the material side, often invisible by marketing, of our digital uses. Concretely, a data center is used to store, process and organize large amounts of data.

How it works ?

Far from being simple digital warehouses, data centers respond to multiple issues. Since the equipment heats up and is sensitive, it must meet the challenges of air conditioning, air filtering to avoid dust, energy distribution and fire protection. They are also vaults of a particular kind, since they house quantities of sensitive information. Data centers are therefore generally equipped with security services, permanent monitoring of equipment, physical access control, etc.

Data centers house sensitive information. // Source: Canva

Who are the main data center owners?

All digital giants need to build data centers to keep their business running smoothly. Logically, given the pioneering nature of the country in IT, the United States is the country with the most data centers in the world: 2,701 in 2022, compared to 487 for Germany, n° 2 in the ranking compiled by Statista. That said, these figures do not provide information on the size of each space.

In recent years, however, several of them have taken to offering so-called “cloud” storage services. In reality, opting for this kind of service is simply to outsource the management of its equipment. If the materiality of digital uses becomes extremely weak in the eyes of the customer, it remains real, but managed by suppliers such as Amazon, Google, Oracle, Alibaba or OVH.

The advantage of these services is to avoid having to worry about technical issues and, often, to gain in data security. The disadvantage is… that we no longer worry about technical issues. When a fire strikes a data center, such as the one that affected those of OVH in March 2021this is a brutal reminder of the existence of tangible infrastructures behind our online tools… And, that complete businesses can remain offline while repairs are being made.

What types of data centers are there?

From a technical point of view, data centers are not differentiated so much by their size as by their reliability. To attest to this, the telecommunications industry association and the American National Standards Institute have created the ANSI/TIA 942 standard. It classifies data centers according to four categories — tier 1 corresponding to the use of small businesses or a slightly improved server room, tier 4 to that of the most demanding multinationals.

With the development of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, which require enormous computing capacities, Hyperscale data centers multiplied in the course of the 2010s. These have the particularity of containing 250,000 servers to a minimum, to take advantage of optimized air conditioning systems… and to consume, in some cases, as much energy as 50,000 households per hour. Their number increase with digital uses.

What is the impact of data centers on the environment?

In addition to their growing number, the equipment and the very activity of data centers raise several environmental issues. The first is of an energy nature: in France, digital represents nearly 10% of national energy consumption, data centers alone 2%. However, this winter 2022, if there is an energy shortage, data centers may well have to switch from the electricity grid to their own generators… which are more polluting.

Another question concerns the cooling of systems which, when running, have a certain propensity to heat up. As part of the energy sobriety plan, the French data center sector has undertaken to limit its use of air conditioning 21 to 23°C, when the equipment allows it… But nothing is simple. In the summer of 2021, to refresh its hardware, Microsoft had consumed four times more water than expected in the Netherlands. In 2022, it was so hot that in London, Google and Oracle data centers are broke down.

As the ecological issue is becoming a concern, specific indicators are used by the sector to estimate the PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) and the WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness). Facebook has made the energy efficiency of its data centers public for the first time in 2013. In another mode, companies are working to recover energy “waste” from data centers, in particular the heat they produce, even if this path remains a minority one. Dalkia and Trésorio supply hot water to 48 homes from Montlucon thanks to computer equipment, while in Bailly-Romainvilliers, the four pools of the Val d’Europe swimming pool stay warm thanks to the data center of the Natixis bank.

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What is a data center?

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