Data Centers For Dummies

They are called “centres de données” in French. The construction of brand new data centers and extension of existing data centers is booming. According to a study by the J3e company titled Cloud Prospective 2017, “following the arrival of platforms like Microsoft and Amazon, market growth in Paris in 2017 should reach 6 to 7%; lower than the 12 to 15% growth expected in London and Amsterdam”.


Essential for storing digital information, data centers are at the heart of both digital revolution and a complex universe. So what exactly are they?

  • A. What is a data center?

    Simply put, a data center is a secure space that houses computer equipment for storage of one or more companies’ data. In a data center, you will mainly find:


    • Servers, which store data (“data servers”) or host websites or applications (“application servers”). Current servers differ in form and size. There are: Web servers, application servers, mail servers, data center servers, file servers, print servers and the list goes on.


    • Network architecture which includes routers and switches, and which primarily uses optical fiber.


    • A power supply, commonly provided by power generators.


    • Firewalls, which ensure security.


    • Cabinets and racks, which house all the equipment.


    • Internet connections, supplied by network cables.


  • B. “Securing” data center

    The equipment, and what it supports, requires a high level of “security”. This physical and digital security aims to safeguard data integrity in two key ways:


    By protecting against piracy, on the one hand, and ensuring that the equipment functions properly on the other.


    To this end, many factors are necessary:


    • Access – physical and digital – is restricted and secured. For example, the storage rooms are equipped with surveillance cameras, and even guards who monitor the facilities (security contract) as well as mesh walls barring access.


    • The power supply can be completed by a power generator that kicks in if a power outage occurs. This power supply can also be doubled by using separated power domains.


    • The facility’s environment is highly controlled to avoid machine overheating.


    • Back-ups are generally carried out in two separate places.
  • C. Company data storage

    Numerous server management models can be considered. Here are the two main ones:


    The company has the option of storing its data “internally”, meaning the company has its own data center on its premises. In this case, it maintains control and independence over the installation, but must also manage security issues itself. This solution is often considered limiting and costly because it calls for space, very specific installations, reactivity in the case of disaster and recruitment of staff with specialized skills.


    Thus, the company might decide to store its data “externally”, which means it externalizes its data storage and/or management in a professional data center. Consequently, the company is able to access cutting-edge technology (higher performance servers, advanced security, etc.) at an attractive price and without an additional initial investment. Furthermore, the client company benefits from services, complementary guarantees, personalized offers, as well as the data center’s superior expertise.


    Due to the various advantages - and despite difficulties that may arise in the case of relocation or services that fall short of expectations - the current trend is to externalize information systems, especially to a Cloud[1]


    Note that there are many Managed Services Agreements, and the above considerations would be defined within a personalized package.





  • D. The digital transformation behind data center proliferation

    The trend to externalize is mostly founded on the digital revolution that is ongoing in the private and public spheres, as well as in daily consumer use.


    Among the biggest changes is the exponential rise in digital data traffic, be it due to the digitization of professional and private information or the surge in smartphone, tablet or other smart gadget use. The Internet of Things (or Web 3.0) has made it into everyday language. Physical and/or virtual objects are increasingly more interconnected across all domains and for all purposes (medicine, education, smart homes, etc.)


    A survey conducted by the French agency, IDC2, contemplates that the digital world will amount to 44,000 billion gigabytes in 2020; 10 times more than in 2013. Another survey by Cisco Systems predicts the number of connected items will reach 50 billion in 2020, compared to 20 billion in 2015 (2.5 times more). CCTVs, weather sensors, credit cards and large telescopes already provide a lot of information to the industries concerned. These devices are networked or made public and are now beneficial in many other areas. Today, it is possible to cross all data from sensors, the internet and open data.


    Finally, shared data is greatly increasing. Technology transfer, storage and the underlying structures are thus expected to follow the same course. In the wake of this boom of digital data, data centers are therefore constantly evolving both in quantitatively and qualitatively.


    However, this assertion must be qualified. The possible link between the growth in volume (and amount) of data and the growth of physical facilities cannot be confirmed. Compression techniques and server performance are sharply increasing and leading to a reduction of the storage and application space required. Nevertheless, in 2012, the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that ten times more servers would be required to manage the additional expected data (see the French newspaper, Libération).

  • E. A few figures

    Regarding equipment, many electronic cabinets (called "racks") are aligned with each other and form rectilinear walkways. Let’s have a look at the magnitude to better visualize the space required: each rack is about 50 cm wide and is composed of several units (U) that are 4.5 cm high. The height remains below 3.5 m to enable on-site technical support necessary for the smooth functioning of servers.


    The size of a data center depends on the number of servers / racks stored: some span thousands of square feet, when the biggest can measure over to 800,000 ft.3


    The number of data centers has greatly increased over the past few years. While there were 2,087 data centers worldwide in 2011, 4,058 data centers are now spread around 118 countries4. The United Sates holds 40.6% of them, the United Kingdom 5.9%, Germany 4.5% and Canada 3.8%.


    In 2016, France had about 180 data centers, with 1/3 of them in the Paris area (considering the number, not the surface). Other data centers were distributed all over the country, mainly around big cities. This geographic distribution is historically due to the specific needs of data centers, as regards electric power and Internet access (with optical fiber).


    In the energy domain, and according to a survey conducted by the French company, ENR'CERT, the energy consumed by a data center constitutes 49% of its costs5 and 40% of the energy is spent on cooling the servers. In comparison, the energy consumption of a data center is 37 times greater than household consumption. For instance, in France, data centers represent 9% of the power consumption


  • F. Main actors

    While data centers can be found worldwide, the greatest web hosts are mainly based in the United States (Phoenix, New York, Sacramento) and Asia (Hong-Kong, Shanghai, Singapore), regarding the server rental and housing.


    Due to the various players involved, it is a really complex market. With its growth, this market is becoming more and more attractive. Companies involved in other markets are developing their service offers and introducing a comprehensive service with web hosting.


    Here are some companies pertaining to 5 kinds of players:

    • Traditional operators: Equinix, Interxion, Global Switch, ITRoute


    • Telecommunications: Orange, Iliad, Completel


    • Web and cloud computing corporations: Google, Amazon, Microsoft with their specific solutions.


    • Digital IT consulting groups: Sogeti, Sopra-Steria, Atos-Bull, IBM


    • Value added hosts: OVH, Ikoula, Amen


    Note that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon had to invest in their own data center infrastructures over the course of their growth, owing to massive amounts of data collected and processed on a daily basis

To conclude,

It is essential to understand that data centers have become a key tool in business digital transformation, both in terms of storage and digital data transfer. Companies therefore prefer to entrust professional hosts with their data storage. In order to attract foreign companies and to stimulate the national economy, countries have every interest to promote data center development within their territories.

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