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What are the Features of a Cloud Data Centre?

Updated on October 7, 2015
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Data Centres & The Cloud

Deciding how to look after data is quickly becoming a priority for many businesses. In previous articles I have looked at how our rapidly increasing levels of data have started to affect the size of the data centres being built, as more space for data is required, the overall size of new facilities is also expanding. The type of data centre being built is also changing, with much more focus now put on ‘the cloud’ many companies are now choosing to move their data into the cloud. Doing this means that companies can benefit from the ability of accessing their data whenever and wherever they need it. The result of this new emphasis on the cloud means that there are now more cloud data centres being built than ever before. Centres owned and run by different companies may have different features and specifications but there are many aspects that are common across all centres.

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Security

One of the key features of a cloud data centre, and any centre that houses sensitive or confidential data, is a high level of security. Cloud data centres will house data for a large variety of customers and will need to ensure that the data is secure. In most cases external access to the centre will be heavily monitored and visitor access to the centre will be restricted. As an extra measure of physical security the racks containing the cloud servers will usually be locked and if visitors are allowed, or if clients want to inspect the centre, they will be accompanied by a member of staff. Data centre premises will usually be monitored by CCTV, sometimes both inside and outside, and may even have dedicated security staff. A data centre facility will have some form of required security measure for those who need access to the centre, this could be in the form of a PIN code or a proximity card.

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Biometrics & Technology

Data centre technology has developed, with the formation of the cloud, and so have the methods of keeping the centre secure. Biometric security systems are now in place in many cloud data centres. This is where the system identifies someone by looking at their unique characteristics, such as their fingerprints. In some cases voice recognition is used, while some centres use a ‘weight matching’ system. Another popular form of security practice in data centres is the use of man-traps (also known as ‘air locks’). This is where a corridor or small room leading into the data centre has two doors that are never unlocked at the same time. Nowadays they are often automated, the first door must close before the second will open, and there may be varying forms of identification for each door.

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Cooling Systems

Although security is very important in a cloud facility, another important consideration is the temperature control. All data centres will have a system in place to manage the cooling and temperature - cloud centres are no different. Cloud centres will house large amounts of server equipment that need to be kept at optimum temperatures. If the temperature and humidity are too high or too low it can lead to the servers malfunctioning and problems with performance. If the air is too humid water can form inside the equipment and generally lead to breakages. Not only does the general air temperature need to be taken into account, but the fact all the equipment will also be giving out hot air. Cloud data centres will employ an air conditioning system that will keep the facility at the correct temperature and humidity.

Temperature Control

Another common feature that you may see in a data centre is a raised floor. There are two reasons for using a raised floor. One is that all the wires and power supply cables can be stored and routed to different parts of the facility without getting in the way. The second is that it can be helpful in terms of temperature control. The cooling and air conditioning systems can be kept out of the way under the floor and the area under the floor can actually be used as a plenum space. Some cloud data centres, however, argue that a solid floor is more effective option.

A cloud data centre may also implement ‘hot and cold’ aisles. This system can further control the ambient air temperature and keep the servers running. Hot and cold aisles are where the equipment in a cloud data centre is arranged so that the air conditioning system can run more efficiently. The sides of the servers that exhaust hot air are positioned so that they face the intake duct of the cooling system. The front sides of the servers and racks will face the cooling system’s output. With this system in place the cooling system is more efficient because the hot air is channelled to the return duct of the cooling system, and the cool air needed for the servers to run properly can reach the servers unimpeded. In order to further maintain the interior ambient temperature, a cloud facility will have few to no windows as this can adversely affect the temperature.

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Fire Protection

Finally, a cloud data centre will also have measures in place to protect against fire. These may be ‘passive’ systems, such as the use of fire resistant walls which will slow the spread of the fire. Cable coating may also be carried out, reducing the risk of quickly spreading electrical fires. These forms of fire protection will not stop the fire but will slow the speed it spreads giving the centre more time to react. Active fire protection systems will also be in place. These can include, fire alarms, smoke detectors and sprinkler systems. Cloud centres will also have backup power generators and redundant electrical supplies in case of power cuts or naturally occurring problems that can affect the servers. Not all data centres are exactly the same, but the vast majority will have a number of similar features in order to run at a high standard.

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