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What Is a Data Center?

A data center is a physical facility consisting of high-performance servers, storage systems, networking equipment, and other infrastructure. Used by organizations for storing, managing, and distributing data, data centers support the needs of large-scale applications as well as cloud computing, colocation, content delivery, and more. Today’s modern data centers make use of virtualization, automation, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), and other technologies to optimize availability, scalability, security, and efficiency.

The Role of the Data Center

Data centers are designed to help businesses store, distribute, and interpret data using a variety of hardware and software tools that help IT departments manage data and maintain the IT infrastructure. The data centers of yesteryear were privately-owned, on-premise facilities housing a slew of traditional IT infrastructure. Today, cloud technology has transformed the role of data centers by providing modern organizations with access to apps, workloads, and other virtualized resources that are hosted remotely in third-party data centers. These third parties include public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

This shift from on-premises data centers to cloud native services has led to significant changes in the way many organizations operate. They can now scale their IT resources up or down on demand, pay only for the resources they use, and avoid the significant upfront expenses associated with building and maintaining their own data centers. What’s more, cloud providers offer advanced security measures and disaster recovery solutions, ensuring that businesses' data is safe and accessible at all times.

Why Are Data Centers Important?

Data centers store and manage massive amounts of data that organizations rely on for day-to-day operations. Namely, they host the necessary hardware for businesses to run and support their IT environments, such as: 

  • Networks
  • Applications
  • Security
  • Virtual machines

Without a data center, an organization has nowhere to house its hardware-based technology and, effectively, run its business

Today, the role of the data center has changed. The rise of remote work and mobility have changed the way organizations access and use data, making it more challenging for traditional data centers to keep up. The demand for secure and reliable access to data has grown massively now that remote and hybrid work are commonplace, so organizations must ensure their data centers can reliably provide secure remote access to employees. This requires a robust and flexible data center infrastructure that can handle remote work challenges such as bandwidth limitations, connectivity issues, and cyberthreats.

Moreover, cyberthreats have become a more significant concern when it comes to data center security. This is due to the fact that data is now much more widely distributed with the advent of remote and hybrid work, and with that, users are accessing this data via the internet, leaving it more vulnerable than ever before. As such, a legacy, hardware-based data center security approach won’t suffice in keeping data protected.

Implementing a comprehensive, multi-layered security approach capable of defending data centers from internal and external threats can no longer be an afterthought—it must be top-of-mind. To this end, many businesses are implementing a cloud-delivered zero trust architecture, an approach proven to not only minimize security risk, but also reduce downtime and improve IT operations overall.

How Do Data Centers Work?

Data center facilities are equipped with a range of technologies, including servers, storage devices, and networking (and network security) equipment, that work together to manage and distribute data across multiple devices and locations. These facilities are large spaces that house computer systems and related equipment for data storage, processing, and management. 

 

How Are Data Centers Managed?

Data centers are managed by teams of professionals who oversee the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure and equipment. These teams typically include specialists in different areas, such as server maintenance, data center networking, and security.

Data center management includes monitoring the facility's temperature and humidity, conducting regular data backups, performing maintenance on hardware and software, and ensuring that the facility is secure and protected against cyberattacks. Additionally, data center management involves ensuring the facility operates efficiently and cost-effectively, with a focus on reducing energy consumption and maximizing uptime.

To this end, data center managers use advanced tools and technologies, such as virtualization and automation, and machine learning (ML) to optimize resource utilization and streamline operations. Effective management is critical for ensuring that users can access data when needed, and that the organization can operate efficiently and remain competitive in today's digital landscape.

 

What Are the Core Components of a Data Center?

The core components of a data center include: 

  • Servers, which are the primary computing devices that process and manage data;
  • Storage devices, which are used to house large volumes of data;
  • Networking equipment, such as routers, switches, and other components that connect the various devices within the data center and enable them to communicate with each other; and
  • Cooling systems, including air conditioning, ventilation, and in some cases liquid cooling, that maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels within the facility to prevent overheating and equipment failure.

In addition to these components, data centers also require backup power sources, such as generators or uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), to ensure that operations continue without disruption in the event of a power outage.

 

What Is the Infrastructure of a Data Center?

The physical infrastructure of a data center is the facility itself, including the building, power and cooling systems, and equipment such as servers as well as networking and storage devices. The virtual infrastructure includes software and systems for managing and controlling the data center's operations, such as virtualization software, automation tools, and management software.

Types of Data Centers

There are many different types of data centers, each with their own unique features and capabilities depending on a business’ requirements or goals.

  • Enterprise data centers are owned by a single organization and used to support that organization's internal IT needs. That organization also manages the data center operations.
  • Colocation data centers provide shared computing resources and services to multiple organizations, allowing them to access the benefits of a data center without the need for their own dedicated facility.
  • Cloud data centers, operated by cloud service providers, offer virtualized computing resources and services over the internet.
  • Modular data centers are portable, self-contained computing environments that are deployable in remote locations or areas with limited space or infrastructure.
  • Edge data centers are smaller facilities located closer to end users, enabling faster and more efficient access to computing resources and services.

What Are the Four Tiers of Data Centers?

The Uptime Institute outlines four tiers of data centers, each with increasing levels of redundancy, availability, and fault tolerance.

  • Tier 1 data centers are the most basic and consist of a single path for power and cooling, offering an uptime of 99.671%.
  • Tier 2 data centers provide some redundancy in power and cooling systems, allowing for maintenance and upgrades without service interruption, with an uptime of 99.741%.
  • Tier 3 data centers have dual-powered components and multiple paths for power and cooling, offering an uptime of 99.982%.
  • Tier 4 data centers have all the features of the lower tiers with added redundancy and fault tolerance, including multiple active power and cooling distribution paths, an uptime of 99.995%, and the ability to handle multiple concurrent hardware failures.

Data Center Security

In addition to keeping your data center physically secure, securing your data center(s) means cutting off any and all avenues for cyberattacks. As today’s businesses evolve and elevate their IT installs, so too do threat actors and groups. It can be argued that protecting your data center from intrusion has never been more difficult, but fortunately, there are measures you can take and solutions you can implement to reduce your risk.

  • Consider a cloud-based zero trust architecture. As more and more resources move to the cloud, organizations are moving from an on-premises architecture to a cloud-delivered zero trust model. Zero trust is founded on the principle of least-privileged access and the idea that no user, workload, or device is inherently trustworthy.
  • Implement rigorous security best practices. A strong security architecture is nothing without an educated workforce and effective security guardrails in place. Be sure to cultivate security awareness within your organization and enforce strict policies for all users.
  • Use a rock-solid data protection platform. There’s no better way to keep your data center’s resources safe than with a data protection platform. It sounds straightforward, but many businesses tend to overlook this step, doubling down on network and endpoint security while leaving data vulnerable.
  • Choose a proven security vendor with a strong reputation. When weighing your options for cloud native data protection built into a zero trust architecture, make your selection based on the company’s history of delivering such a product, at scale, with a high availability rate.

How Zscaler Can Help

Zscaler Private Access™ (ZPA™) provides fast, secure, and seamless access to private applications while minimizing the attack surface and lateral movement. As a cloud native service, ZPA can be deployed in hours to replace traditional remote access tools, such as VPN and VDI. 

With ZPA, zero trust access to private applications is provided by first verifying the identity and context (who, what, where) of the access request. Traffic is then segmented to map users to apps and devices before computing a risk score and inspecting traffic to protect against cyberthreats and data loss. Appropriate policies are then applied before establishing connections to apps or OT devices.

Delivering a secure, unmatched user experience, Zscaler Private Access gives your business the power and ability to:

  • Replace legacy VPNs and firewalls: Users connect directly to apps—not the network—minimizing the attack surface and eliminating lateral movement.
  • Prevent private app compromise: First-of-its-kind app protection, threat isolation, and deception minimizes the risk of compromised users and data loss.
  • Empower today's hybrid workforce: Lightning-fast access to private apps extends seamlessly across remote users, HQ, branch offices, and third-party partners.
  • Reduce cost and complexity: A unified ZTNA platform for users, workloads, and IoT/OT offers secure, optimal access while eliminating the cost and complexity of multiple point products.
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Let our specialists show you how Zscaler Private Access can quickly and securely transform your operations with zero trust network access.

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