What is a data center?

A data center is a facility housing many networked computers that work together to process, store and share data.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Define a data center
  • Differentiate between a data center and a point-of-presence (PoP)
  • Explain common data center design/architecture concerns

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What is a data center?

A data center is a facility housing many networked computers that work together to process, store, and share data. Most major tech companies rely heavily upon data centers as a central component in delivering online services.

What is the difference between a data center and a point-of-presence (PoP)?

The terms data center and point-of-presence (PoP) are sometimes used interchangeably, though distinctions can be made between them. Speaking generally, a PoP may refer to a company having a single server presence in a location while a data center may refer to a location that houses multiple servers. Instead of referring to multiple PoPs in one location, Cloudflare uses the term data center to indicate a location in which many of our servers are maintained.

Map of data centers

The concept of a point-of-presence rose to prominence during the court ordered breakup of the Bell telephone system. In the court decision, a point-of-presence referred to a location where long-distance carriers terminate services and shift connections onto a local network. Similarly, on the modern Internet a PoP typically refers to where CDNs have a physical presence in a location, often in the junctures between networks known as Internet exchange points (IxP).

A data center refers to a physical location in which computers are networked together in order to improve usability and reduce costs related to storage, bandwidth, and other networking components. Data centers such as IxP co-location facilities allow different Internet service providers, CDN’s, and other infrastructure companies to connect with each other to share transit.

What are the common concerns in the design of a data center?

Many components and factors are taken into consideration when creating a modern data center. With proper planning, maintenance, and security, a data center is at lower risk of both downtime and data breaches.

Data center considerations include:

  • Redundancy/backup - the level of redundancy varies widely based on the quality of a data center; in high tier data centers, multiple redundancies in power and backup servers are built into the infrastructure.
  • Efficiency - the amount of electricity used at a large data center rivals that of a small town. Whenever possible, data centers attempt to cut down on costs by optimizing cooling processes and using energy-efficient hardware.
  • Security - proper physical security, both in terms of electronic surveillance, access controls, and on-site security guards reduce the risk associated with bad actors attempting to gain site access.
  • Environmental controls/factors - maintaining the right environmental conditions is necessary for the proper functioning of electronic hardware. Keeping both temperature and humidity within acceptable parameters requires the proper balance of air conditioning, humidity control, and airflow regulation. In areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes, properly secured servers are also a necessary concern.
  • Maintenance and monitoring - on-site or on-call network engineers are needed in order stay on top of server crashes and other hardware failures. Proper response helps to ensure server uptime and eliminate reductions in quality of service.
  • Bandwidth - a data center is incomplete without the bandwidth necessary to handle all the requisite network traffic. Bandwidth considerations are a central component in data center infrastructure, with external network connections and internal data center topology both designed around sufficient network capacity.

Learn more about the Cloudflare CDN with data centers located all over the world.