Data center myths & facts


Few people know much about data centres, but many people know two things: that data centers have something to do with the internet, and that they use a lot of power. Beyond that, misconceptions flourish. We’ve chosen ten common myths about data centers and explained where and why they diverge from reality.

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1. Data centers don’t employ anybody

Data centers generate lots of jobs; directly, in construction and operation, and indirectly in their supply and customer communities. Their most important economic effect, however, is the way they enable their customers, whose productivity, competitiveness and market reach are stimulated by world class digital infrastructure. Enabling our digital economy, data centers are the “how” of the internet.

2. Data centers are just big sheds full of servers

While some data centers win architecture awards, more commonly they resemble boring industrial buildings. But appearances can be misleading: nondescript exteriors house a whole array of state-of-the-art technologies; telecommunications networks, sophisticated cooling and ventilation, power conditioning, battery rooms, switchgear, emergency generators, control rooms, biometric security systems, monitoring systems and, hopefully, a coffee machine.

3. Data center power use is increasing exponentially

The amount of data that we generate, process, transmit and store is increasing faster than ever before, driven by the digitization of modern societies. But this data explosion is only driving an incremental increase in data center energy use. Overall, data center energy efficiency is improving through a combination of Moore’s Law (processor efficiency doubles every 18-24 months) and technologies like virtualization and cloud computing, which massively increase computing capacity whilst reducing energy consumption. In addition, the migration of computing activity from inefficient server rooms to modern industrial facilities also helps to reduce overall power consumption.

4. Data centers can be built anywhere

Data centers need “Position, Power and Ping”, although the order of priority varies depending on the business model. Position is a location near to customers; for financial services, it’s within 30km or so of the internet exchange / trading platform. Power is electricity – lots of it, and 24/7. The greener and cheaper the better. So Scandinavia is very appealing for large cloud operators whose customers don’t need instantaneous response times. Ping is connectivity – the number of telecoms networks they can access and how much available capacity there is.

5. Data centers are bad for the environment

Data centers do consume a lot of power. Because of this, data centers focus on efficiency and strive to procure renewable energy. The ICT sector also focuses on research and development into clean energy and energy efficiency, and data centers increasingly work to ensure that the disposal supply chain for waste electricals is as closed as it can be and that the heat from the data centers can be reused. Data centers are also enablers of environmental services, carbon reductions and dematerialization, underpinning ICT-based technologies from climate modelling to video conferencing, car-sharing apps and “smart” grids: technologies that significantly reduce energy impacts across the wider economy.

6. Data centers are all in the Arctic (or should be)

Data centers are all over the world, and the choice of location is dependent on the business model and the three P’s (see above). While high-latitude locations excel in terms of availability and reliability of renewable energy, “metro markets” from London or Amsterdam to Singapore are preferred by operators requiring close proximity to a specific internet exchange or strategic positioning at the gateway to a wider market.

7. Data centers have nothing to do with me

Data centers have everything to do with you, from the moment you get up in the morning to last thing at night. You rely on data centers for everyday activities such as booking a ticket, receiving a text, shopping online, paying tax, visiting the doctor, socializing on social media, storing photos, paying the electricity bill, or calling your mother. We depend on data centers in the same way that we depend on electricity.

8. Data centers all do the same thing

Data centers do lots of different things.Some specialize in high performance computing, where vast datasets are crunched for genetic research or weather forecasting; others are run by hyperscale operators offering transactional services like Amazon or social media like Facebook; some provide technical space for customer servers and others are in-house, supporting corporate IT functions.

9. Data centers are becoming obsolete thanks to the cloud

“The cloud” actually resides in physical servers located in data centers on the ground. Cloud computing is the result of changes in technology and business models over the last decade, changes that enable more optimal use of ICT infrastructure. Cloud providers may build their own data centres from where they service governments, businesses and individuals, or take space in colocation facilities (data centers where multiple companies lease space for their servers).

10. If we switched off all the data centers, nothing much would change

Data centers underpin almost every aspect of modern life, from social networking to government services, from air traffic control to weather forecasting. Turning off data centers is likely to impact every aspect of our life, such as electricity, water supply, communications, food distribution, internet, emergency services, financial transactions, security. It is almost impossible to envisage a world in which they don’t exist.

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