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How Big is a Data Centre?

Updated on October 7, 2015
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The Impact of the Internet

The internet has quickly become an integral part of our daily lives, it is almost impossible nowadays for most people to go a day without going online. As a result of the internet’s presence in our lives, everyone has an increasing amount of data that needs to be stored somewhere. This could be, for example, the data for your blog, music or pictures. Cloud hosting and cloud storage have emerged as easy and accessible options for storing data.. More people than ever are accessing the internet while on the move, thanks in part to the rise of the smartphone, and want to be able to listen to their music or work on their documents while they are out and about. With cloud hosting and storage, your data is available whenever and wherever you need it. There is, then, a huge amount of data in the world that needs storing somewhere. IBM has estimated that over 90% of data has been created in the past two years - a rather staggering claim. So where is all this data kept? In data centres, which are having to grow in size to be able to cope with all the information that needs storing.

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Where is Data Stored?

How big is a data centre? Some of the largest cover hundreds of thousands of square feet and house millions of megabytes of data. Why do data centres need to be so big? It can be easy to think that data does not take up physical space and that it only exists in computers or on the internet. This misconception can even extend to the internet itself – the thought that it only exists ‘online’. In actuality data can take up a great deal of space. In the majority of cases it is stored on a physical server which in turn has to be stored somewhere. This is where data centres come in. Hundreds and thousands of servers will often be housed within one data centre. This is usually a better option than keeping servers in offices or server rooms as data centres will often be able to provide high levels of security, support, maintenance, redundancy and backups.

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The 'Biggest Data Centre'

So, if data centres are growing in size, which data centre in particular is the largest? Unfortunately it can be difficult to compare data centres in terms of size. Some centres have such high levels of security that they do not disclose any specifications. Comparing the size of data centres can also be problematic because there are several different types of centre. It would not be constructive to compare the size of a single building dedicated data centre with the size of a mixed data centre facility that incorporates office space as well as data centre space. To confuse things even further, there are also multi-facility data centre campuses to consider. Several blogs and data centre-focussed websites have attempted to create lists of the biggest data centres in the world but as new data centres are constantly being built and extended, these lists can quickly become out of date.

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Huge Data Centres

Instead of simply focussing on ‘the biggest’, this hub aims to look at some examples of huge data centres as it can help to put the scale of stored data into perspective. It can be difficult to comprehend the scale of the data being stored until you can visualise the size of the data centres required. For example, a contender in the running for ‘largest data centre’ is still being built. The Chinese web services company, Baidu is currently building a new cloud data centre that will be finished in 2016. The new centre is planned to be over 1.3 million square feet in size! Baidu is often viewed as the Chinese counterpart to Google and has invested 10 billion Yuan (or just over £1bn) in the project. To put the size of this planned data centre in terms of data, it is said that the centre will be able to store 4,000 petabytes of data. 4,000 petabytes might not sound like a lot, but for most people their individual data will not amount to more than 50 or 100 gigabytes. Four thousand petabytes is the equivalent to over 4,100,000,000 gigabytes!

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Tokyo, Lockerbie & Prineville

Baidu’s cloud data centre is still in the construction phase, so what are some examples of huge data centres that are open and operational? The @Tokyo Data Centre in Japan is a similar size to the planned Baidu cloud centre at 1.4 million square feet. The centre mostly focuses on providing colocation facilities, i.e. where people can rent space out in the centre for their own personal servers. One of the largest data centres in the United Kingdom could very well be the Peelhouses Data Centre in Lockerbie, Scotland. This particular centre is said to be over 2.9 million square feet in size. As more and more data is created data centres will continue to grow. Range Technology and HP are currently planning an energy-efficient cloud data centre and like Baidu’s centre it will be completed in 2016. It is said that the cloud centre will cover 6.2 million square feet. To put that into a more comprehensible scale, the average house in the UK is around 800 square feet, in the USA it is 2000 square feet - both are dwarfed by these planned data centres. Apple is currently building a new facility in Prineville, Oregon, which is only a fairly modest size (in data centre terms at least) of 338,000 square feet. The actual size of the plot for the facility is over 6.9 million square feet which suggests that the data centre may grow quickly in the near future.

The Future of Data?

Data centres, it seems, will continue to expand in size as we produce more and more data. If we want to reduce the size of these facilities changes will have to be made to the way that we store data. Server storage capacity will have to increase, without enlarging their physical size, or data will somehow have to be compressed or reduced in size. It can be easier to understand how large a part the internet is in our lives if we consider the scale and size of the data centres we are building.

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