Data centers

 

What is a data center?

Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, 5G networks, Robotics, Virtual Reality … digitization affects all areas of our digital society and is developing in an incredibly high pace. What many people don’t know is that all technologies above are literally housed in data centers. For that reason, data centers are called the foundation of the digital economy. The Dutch data centers are among the strongest in the world and are spread all over the country, with a center of gravity in the Amsterdam data hub.

A data center is an industrial, highly secured building, built with a clear purpose: ensuring that computer servers with digital applications run uninterruptibly,, 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. A failure in the data center could, for example, prevent you from paying with your bank card. Because professional data centers use the latest innovations in the field of data infrastructure, cooling, power supply and security, this hardly ever happens, luckily. All these systems are redundant, which means that all systems have back-up systems that can carry the operation when one of the systems fails. 

Data centers can be multi-tenant or single-tenant. The first category is also referred to as colocation data centers and these are colocation providers who have made it their business model to facilitate other companies; they rent out data center space. Single tenant data centers, on the other hand, only facilitate the needs of their own companies. Consider, for example, a bank or government service that provides its own IT infrastructure in-house. These data centers are therefore also referred to as business data centers.

There are different types of data centers, each with different customers and different focus. Dutch data centers can roughly be divided into three subtypes:

Regional and national colocation data centers
Wherever you are in the Netherlands, you can always find a professional colocation data center within a maximum of 30 minutes. Data centers are located all over the Netherlands and offer local businesses and governments a platform to run their business-critical systems, store their data and facilitate their services. Some data center providers can be found in one province with one or more facilities, while other data center operators can be found in several locations in the Netherlands.

International colocation data centers
While regional and national data centers mainly focus on national parties, international data centers position themselves as the place to distribute online services in Europe: the Digital Gateway to Europe; the Netherlands – the Amsterdam data hub in particular – serves as an ideal launching pad to the rest of digital Europe. The central location, open economy and above all the excellent connectivity and the various Internet Exchanges have now made the Netherlands the largest data center hub in Europe. Many of these data centers can be found in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (MRA).

Hyperscale data centers
Hyperscales are gigantic single-tenant data centers, built by and for globally operating internet companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon. Hyperscalers are built in places where the costs are low, where there is sufficient supply of green electricity and where heat exchange is possible. The Netherlands is rich in hyperscalers, which can be found in particular in Middenmeer (Noord Holland Noord) and Eemshaven (Groningen).

Multi-tenant or colocation data centers, provide IT space and services to three types of customers in a professional manner:

Hosting and cloud providers
Hosting and cloud providers offer digital infrastructure and a platform for services to third parties. Customers can be end customers of Software-as-a-Service proviers (SaaS), such as accounting program Exact, WeTransfer and payment services such as Adyen and Mollie. Furthermore, popular services are Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), offering computer-physical or more often virtual machines, and Platform as a Service (PaaS), which customers use for the development, execution and management of applications, without having to think about the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure that is usually associated with it.

SaaS providers
SaaS stands for Software as a Service and is also called “on-demand software”. Examples are Google docs or WordPress, but also Exact, WeTransfer, Adyen and Mollie. As a user you do not have to install an application on your own computer or other device, because that is directly regulated by the SaaS provider. These providers often use a data center on their site to manage the IT infrastructure and the platform on which the application runs.

Direct customers
The direct customers of colocation data centers are companies, governments and non-profit organizations that migrate their IT equipment to a professional data center. This includes computers, storage, security and network equipment. By outsourcing IT, they save on IT costs, increase continuity and guarantee the physical safety of the equipment. Moreover, there are more possibilities in terms of scalability and flexibility.

An increasing amount of companies, governments and organizations choose to migrate their IT-infrastructure to a data center. Below we have listed the most important reason to choose for data center outsourcing.

Reliability
A professional data center has redundant (multiple-implemented) systems that would be too expensive for most companies to purchase and maintain themselves. Redundancy in data infrastructure, cooling and power supply ensure that the customer’s data and services are always accessible even if, for example, the power should fail.

Energy efficiency
Data centers in the Netherlands are quite green: the majority uses green energy and data centers bring enormous efficiency benefits in the field of energy. By bringing IT equipment together in one place and by making use of the most advanced, energy-efficient equipment, huge amounts of energy can be saved compared to on-premise IT. Although some call data centers “energy suckers”, the opposite is true: without the sustainable data centers of the Netherlands we would use more than twice as much power based on our current digital consumption!

Cost saving
A data center is a cheap solution when you consider that it uses high-end and up-to-date equipment and services. If a company would want to achieve the same standards for clean rooms, redundant systems and round-the-clock control within its own walls, a large part of the total budget would have to be reserved to keep all servers operational. Moreover: what are the costs if IT, and therefore all employees of a company, are unable to work because the systems are not available? Continuous availability is guaranteed with a professional data center.

Scalability
Expansion of a company’s IT equipment at its own facility (also known as on-premise or in-house) is often difficult due to literal space limitations. By outsourcing your IT equipment to colocation data centers, it is possible to expand quickly and in a flexible manner whenever the need arises. For example, when a company sees fast growth. An important advantage is that you only pay for the space and energy that is actually used. Therefore, the system of oursourcing is extremely efficient. 

Risk Management
Emergencies occur incidentally, but when business-critical equipment runs off-site, it does not necessarily have a negative impact on the company. Colocation is a good strategy to ensure continuity, regardless of whether a data center is used as a primary site for servers or as a mirror site (external copy location) to guarantee constant connectivity during a failure at the primary location. Thanks to data centers, you don’t have to bet on just one horse, so you spread the risk.

Unlimited choice
Every data center is an ecosystem of providers of all kinds of digital services. The amount of network providers, Internet Exchanges, content delivery networks (CDNs), ad exchanges and cloud providers provide a unique platform to make the best choice for a company. New connections can also be made quickly and cheaply. In addition, certainly with the advent of the GDRP privacy legislation in 2018, the choice to store data locally with a national party is often an important consideration.

Data centers guarantee continuity. This means that, no matter what happens, the systems and services of a data center always keep on running. The following are the most important aspects of a data center to guarantee this:

Security
For keeping our data safe, physical security is at least as important as digital or cyber security. For example, the data center has advanced fencing and a secure gate to keep out unwanted visitors. In addition, there are several video cameras and CCTV cameras that monitor the exterior of the building and the premise. The cameras are also redundant in the way that they are positioned in such a way that one camera also monitors another. This means that if one of the cameras fails, there is still monitoring.

Server rooms
Data halls, or server rooms, have standard servers and storage units. The racks are often located in an enclosed space to allow optimal cooling. Additional fencing and cages are used to increase the level of physical safety. These server rooms are only accessed by those who are authorized to do so and only when it is really necessary.

Fire fighting
All server rooms where the data is stored, are equipped with smoke detection systems that monitor the room 24/7. In the event of a fire, traditional fire-fighting systems such as water, extinguishing foam or powder can potentially cause a data center more damage than good. That is why special extinguishing gases are preferred. An extinguishing gas reduces the oxygen content in the air, this suffocates the source of the fire and furthermore, it is harmless to people and the equipment.

Diesel generators
When there is a power outage, diesel generators are activated automatically within a few seconds. While the generators go through a brief start-up phase, designated batteries supply power so that the systems continue to run without any disruption. When the diesel generators are all set, they take over the process and ensure the complete power supply for the data center.

Batteries
Batteries can supply power during brief power outages. When the power fails completely, the power is supplied via this Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) until the emergency standby system is active. The UPS device also compensates for voltage fluctuations and distortions. However, batteries cannot absorb power outages for long. The generators are then required for this.

Cooling systems
High-efficiency cooling systems release excessive server heat to the outside air via heat exchangers on the roof. Different cooling techniques are generally used, such as air cooling or water cooling. More innovative techniques are also used such as adiabatic cooling or cooling with oil or other liquids.

Heat exchangers
On the roof of the data center, heat exchangers release excess heat from the turbo cooling units. During periods with high outside temperatures, the exchangers are sprinkled with water to increase the heat release efficiency.

Monitoring
Control stations for on-premise security and data center systems serve as central commands in the data center. This space is also called a Network Operations Center or NOC. All important information is collected via a DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) system and displayed on large screens. Any deviation from the standard operation is immediately detected and reported.

Meet Me Rooms
Connectivity is key for a data center. Without strong connections, a data center is useless. All these connections come together in Meet-Me-Rooms or MMRs, making it possible to make connections easily and relatively cheaply. At least two MMRs are always present in a data center, due to the redundancy, and from there is then distributed to the server rooms.

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