What Is a Data Center?

A data center is a facility with computer servers and other tech that's used to store and process data

A data center, sometimes spelled as datacenter (one word), is the name given to a facility that contains many computer servers and related equipment.

Think of a data center as a "computer room" that outgrew its walls. They can store any kind of data, be it emails for a company's users, financial records, website data, etc.

Person working in a server room
Lifewire / Marina Li

What Are Data Centers Used For?

Some online services are so large they can't be run from one or two servers. Instead, they need thousands or millions of connected computers to store and process all the data required to make those services work.

For example, online backup companies require one or more data centers so they can house the many-thousands of hard drives they need to store their customers' combined hundreds of petabytes or more of data they need to keep stored away from their computers.

Some data centers are shared, meaning that a single physical data center might serve two, 10, or 1,000 or more companies and their computer processing needs.

Other data centers are dedicated, meaning the entirety of the computational power in the building is being used solely for a single company.

Large companies like Google, Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon each need several, super-sized data centers around the world to accomplish the needs of their individual businesses.

Smaller companies can pay for part of that space, too, so their data is protected as well. Depending on a company's needs, it most likely pays off in the long run to have the reliability, security, and protection that a data center can offer. The alternative is to weigh the cost savings and security you might lose if you set up a local solution.

Data Center Security

Data you store "online" is actually saved on a server or data center somewhere. For you, security just means having a strong password and being mindful of where you leave your hardware, especially portable things like laptops and flash drives.

From the perspective of the data center operators, security looks a little different.

In addition to things you'd expect a data center to have, like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and backup strategies, they must also employ physical security measures to protect the machines housing the data.

This might include:

  • Cameras, guards, and physical access restrictions.
  • Temperature control to manage overheating.
  • Fire protection, either via sprinklers or chemical suppression.
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