An Introductory Guide to the Types of Data Centers

An image of servers in a data center.
Do you know the different types of data centers?

Data centers come in various shapes and sizes. For instance, some types of data centers require minimal or even zero capital. On the other hand, other types offer you full control over your IT infrastructure

Data center technology has come a long way. Nowadays, you can find data centers so small that you’ll wonder if they’re even the real deal. 

IT-dependent businesses consider data centers integral to their operations. Knowing the types of data centers will help you align your business goals with the right IT infrastructure. 

In this article, I’ll describe what a data center is and then discuss the different types of data centers. 

So, let’s begin. 

What Is a Data Center?

A data center is a facility where you can house IT infrastructure, including IT hardware, servers, network devices, storage devices, etc. Of course, that also includes the operating systems, applications, and data stored in those servers and devices. 

Housing your IT infrastructure in a data center is much better than keeping it on-premises. Why? Let me first explain what a data center does.    

Purpose of a Data Center 

A data center consists of a dedicated space, power, cooling, and connectivity for your IT infrastructure. Some data centers provide backup for amenities to organizations with high uptime requirements. 

Moreover, data centers also employ dedicated security, IT, and facility staff to manage and maintain the premises. These attributes enable a data center to deliver significantly higher levels of security, reliability, and connectivity than a regular building. 

Now that you know what a data center is and what it does, let’s look at the different types of data centers. 

6 Types of Data centers

In this section, I’ll give you the lowdown on the 6 different types of data centers. I’ll explain their major strengths and why you might want to deploy your IT infrastructure on them. 

1. Colocation Data Center

Image of stacked up servers in a row, enclosed within glass-protected cells.
A colocation data center is generally an affordable option.

Arguably, the most widely used type of data center, the colocation data center or colo data center, is a multi-tenant facility. That means it serves multiple tenants or clients. You share the facility with other clients when you deploy your IT infrastructure in a colo.

A colocation data center has one major advantage. It’s more affordable than most types of data centers from a CAPEX standpoint. It also lets you retain a significant amount of control. 

In a colocation data center, you lease space, power, cooling, etc., from your data center operator. Meanwhile, you also retain control over your IT hardware and software. 

If you’re a small business, go for the colocation data center. This data center is also a good option if you want to save on capital costs and don’t mind sharing a facility. 

2. Enterprise Data Center

An image of an enterprise data center with a row of servers on each side of a hallway.
You have complete control with an enterprise data center.

Organizations can own data centers. Basically, you can build, privately own, and use these data centers exclusively for your operations. 

Naturally, to own a data center, you’ll need a massive amount of capital. For instance, a data center’s powered shell alone (the physical exterior, plus power and cooling) can cost USD400M-USD800M. Running a data center will also require you to assemble a management team and gather IT talent and security personnel

An enterprise data center’s biggest strength is that it offers you complete control over your entire IT infrastructure. That includes your applications, data, hardware, and the facility itself. 

This type of data center is the best option for large companies who want complete exclusivity in a data center. Clearly, enterprise data centers aren’t cheap. But if you’ve got the means, go ahead. 

3. Cloud Data Center

An image of an array of servers in the sky with clouds.
A cloud data center is highly scalable!

A cloud-based service offering access to a virtualized IT infrastructure. It’s essentially Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

With a cloud data center, you don’t have to manage your IT infrastructure’s physical aspects. That includes the physical servers, routers, networking, etc.

The biggest advantage of cloud data centers is that they have all the characteristics of cloud computing. Therefore, they’re highly scalable, require practically zero CAPEX, provide flexible payments, etc. 

This type of data center gives you even greater CAPEX savings than a colocation data center. But the downside is that you won’t fully control the facility and the physical IT infrastructure. 

4. Edge Data Center

Image shows a close-up of a server in a data center.
Choose an edge data center if you’re looking for speed!

This type of data center is relatively new. An edge data center is, basically, a smaller-sized colocation facility

Businesses build these data centers close to their target end users. Instead of building one huge data center, edge data center operators build many smaller facilities near their target clients.

The reasoning behind this architecture is to reduce latency. In turn, this improves application response times and provides a better overall user experience (UX). In short, an edge data center’s biggest advantage is speed

From a network and UX standpoint, edge data centers are also faster than traditional, monolithic data centers. So, choose edge data centers if you need a fast response from your data-center-hosted applications, like for gaming or content delivery applications. 

5. Micro Data Center

An image of a server with many cables plugged into it.
Micro data centers can be as small as a locker!

A micro data center is a subclass of the edge data center. This data center type is even smaller than the average edge data center. Some micro data centers can be as small as a room or locker. 

A micro data center’s strength lies in its ability to reduce latencies. Its modular design deviates from conventional data center standards because it isn’t a facility. In fact, you could easily house them on-premises without any issues. 

You need a micro data center if your business primarily operates on Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Micro data centers’ minimal latency is best suited for these devices. 

6. Hyperscale Data Center

An image of a massive row of servers in a hyperscale data center.
Get hyperscale data centers to support rapid scalability.

Hyperscale data centers are sprawling, single-site facilities. They also house several thousands of servers. They’re each equipped with massive storage capacities, high-speed networks, and computing power

Scale is the only clear distinction between hyperscale, colocation, and enterprise data centers. Hyperscale data centers are significantly more powerful and scalable than the other two. 

Moreover, their chief strength lies in their ability to support projects requiring massive computing resources and rapid scalability. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook all use hyperscale data centers. 

Needless to say, hyperscale data centers aren’t for everyone. The sheer size of the companies that use them should give you a hint as to their cost. That said, go for hyperscale data centers if you’re running big data projects or need massive and scalable computing power.

Another way of classifying data centers is with data center tier ratings. The Uptime Institute developed this rating system for data center performance

Let’s briefly go over the tier ratings now. 

Data Center Tier Ratings 

The rating system places low-performing capabilities in Tier 1 and high-performing ones in Tier 4

According to the Uptime Institute, the tiers are progressive. That means each higher tier contains and builds on the lower-tiered capabilities. Of course, data centers in higher tiers are costlier

But before diving into the details, I need to clarify the concept of redundancy

Redundancy simply refers to the presence of backup equipment or system. And these backups can take over should the main equipment or system fail. 

The more backup equipment/systems you have, the greater the redundancy. Greater redundancy amounts to higher uptime or availability. 

Tier Brief descriptionAdvantage over lower tierMost suitable for
Tier 1Has minimal to zero redundancy for power and cooling components. You’ll need to shut down if components need to be removed for maintenance/repairs. Unexpected major outages can halt operations N/ASmall-to-medium-sized business (SMB) that doesn’t run mission-critical systems
Tier 2Provides redundant capacity components for power and cooling. Unexpected major outages can still impact the systemComponents can be removed for maintenance without shutting the facility or operations SMB that runs mission-critical systems
Tier 3Has greater redundancy than Tier 2Unexpected major outages have a lesser impact than in Tier 1 and Tier 2Large business with mission-critical systems 
Tier 4Adds fault tolerance to Tier 3Theoretically, when any equipment fails, IT operations can continue as normalGovernment agency, hospital, or any organization where downtime can put lives or the general public at risk
Which data center tier is right for your business?

Final Thoughts

It’s best to know the different types of data centers before you choose one for your organization. It’s also important to consider each type’s major advantages and limitations before making a choice.

For instance, you should know which data center can provide you with the best CAPEX savings, the greatest control, the fastest response times, the highest scalability, and more. 

You should also consider the data center tier ratings 1,2,3, and 4. And after that, you’ll be able to select the best data center for your business. I hope this article gave you enough information and insights on each of those types and tiers. 

If you have additional questions, check out the FAQ and Resources sections below. 

FAQ

What do data center operators use for cooling?

Data centers commonly use the Computer Room Air Conditioner (CRAC) and the Computer Room Air Handler (CRAH). CRAC works almost like your home air conditioning system. Conversely, the CRAH requires under-floor plumbing. 

Is a hyperconverged infrastructure better than a traditional data center?

A well-implemented hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) reduces costs and complexity. It also increases scalability compared to a traditional data center. 

How to get back in operation if you suffer a major outage?

Major data center outages, such as those caused by natural disasters, can last quite some time. As a result, they can cost your business significant losses. But you can resume operations quickly by instituting a disaster recovery plan (DRP). Basically, a DRP will ensure your organization knows how to respond to disaster events.

How can I detect cybercriminals in my data center network?

You can detect malicious criminal activity using intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems. These cybersecurity solutions are equipped with signature-based or anomaly-based intrusion detection methods. As a result, they can identify malicious activity. 

How can I protect my connections from cybercriminals? 

Cybercriminals can intercept your sensitive data, e.g., login credentials, as you send it from your devices to data center-based applications. But you can counter these threats by employing an IPsec VPN

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Remote Code Execution 

Discover how remote code execution (RCE) puts your IT infrastructure at risk.

TechGenix: Introductory Guide to Cloud Network Security

Get acquainted with the basic concepts, importance, and types of cloud network security.

TechGenix: Article on DNS Hijacking

Understand how DNS hijacking works and how it can put your network at risk. 

TechGenix: Article on Proxy Servers

Get the rundown on proxy servers and their role in cybersecurity.

TechGenix: Blog Post on Firewall Best Practices

Strengthen your data center defenses with these firewall best practices.

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