How is a Data Center constructed, which components belong to a Data Center, or rather, what makes a Data Center a Data Center?

A Data Center is a building or space in which centralized or decentralized computer technology and its infrastructure are installed. The most important component of a Data Center is the server room (whitespace). This is the place where the server, storage systems and other IT equipment are set up. 

The individual servers are usually installed in server racks. Depending on the number and power of the servers, a large amount of heat is produced. As a result, a large part of the Data Center is occupied by air conditioning. The failure of a Data Center often has immense economic consequences for the affected users. In some cases, the failure of a Data Center can even lead to the insolvency of entire companies.

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For this reason, great importance is attached to redundant systems and fail-safety in the Data Center. Uninterruptible power supply systems and emergency power generators are a standard feature of every Data Center. The respective availability of a Data Center is determined by standards such as EN 50600 or institutes such as the Uptime Institute. 

Essentially, a Data Center consists of the following components:

1. Power Supply

  • transformers
  • Gensets
  • uninterruptible power supply
  • power distribution systems

2. Cooling Technology

  • refrigeration e.g. chillers
  • refrigeration distribution e.g. recirculating air conditioners
  • control engineering

3. IT Technology

  • server systems
  • storage systems
  • IT-Racks
  • rack PDUs

4. Building Construction

  • raised floor
  • walls and doors in burglary and fire protection design

5. Security Technology

  • fire alarm system
  • fire extinguishing system
  • intrusion detection system
  • access control system
  • hazard management system

Energy Supply

"Electricity comes out of the socket" - this statement is true. But how does it get there and what happens if the power grid fails? A Data Center depends on the power supply just as we humans need air to breathe. Because of the amount of power required, Data Centers are usually connected directly to high-voltage grids. The transformer component with associated switchgear can be found in almost every Data Center and ensures the connection to the public power grid.

The public power grid can fail. Everyone has experienced this at one time or another and felt the resulting dependence on the public grid. If the public grid fails, the Data Center must independently provide the energy it needs to operate reliably. A central element here is the emergency power system. The emergency power supply takes over the task of the public network when it is not available. Due to the high power requirements, large diesel engines with generators are usually used here. These start independently if the public power grid fails.

Servers in particular require a stable power supply. The emergency power generators have a starting time of approx. 15-20 seconds. This time must be bridged. Systems such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are responsible for a continuous power supply. UPS systems consist of battery systems, which immediately supply the connected consumers with energy in the event of a power failure.

Another key element in power supply is power distribution. The required energy must be routed from the transformers and emergency power generators to the server areas and distributed there. Power distribution systems can be low-voltage switchgear (LVSHV), sub-distribution (UV) or busbar systems.

Cooling

A Data Center converts the supplied electrical energy 1:1 into thermal energy. Intelligent air conditioning concepts are required to dissipate the heat. Central elements of conventional air-conditioning concepts are chillers and associated cooling distributions. Basically, the cooling concepts can be divided into:

Refrigerant-based Cooling (DX)

The heated air emitted by the server is cooled by air conditioning units located on the IT floor. In this case, the cold is generated by a closed refrigerant circuit with evaporator, compressor, condenser and expansion valve.

Immersion Cooling (Immersion Cooling)

Immersion cooling is a very advanced cooling technology. The IT hardware is immersed in a dielectric fluid, which dissipates the heat directly.

Free Cooling

Instead of mechanical cooling, such as refrigerant-based cooling, free cooling uses natural elements such as outside air or chilled water to cool the Data Center. This type of air conditioning is a very efficient approach to Data Center air conditioning.

Adiabatic Cooling

Adiabatic cooling uses evaporative cooling to air condition the Data Center. The principle of adiabatic cooling is based on thermodynamic laws, where the cooling energy released by evaporation is effectively used. In practice, this technology is very often combined with other technologies.

Cold Aisle Containment / Hot Aisle Containment

By using enclosures, the cold air is strictly separated from the warm exhaust air of the IT components. Here, the IT racks form "aisles" and are arranged so that the cold air is fed directly to the server without mixing with the warm exhaust air. This creates thermal separation and significantly improves the efficiency of the Data Center.

IT Technology

The IT technology, with its server and storage systems, forms the heart of a Data Center. All measures and components described here serve the purpose of operating the IT technology securely and without interruption.

The servers are installed in special IT racks / cabinets. These are designed to accommodate standardized IT equipment in 19" technology. The power supply for the IT equipment is provided by rack PDUs (power distribution units). These are professional, intelligent power strips equipped with extensive measurement and communication technology.

Building Design

The technology determines the building. A Data Center is a technical building. Thus, fire protection walls and doors are part of every Data Center. Furthermore, most Data Centers have raised floor systems. This additional level allows the cold air needed for cooling to be supplied to the server.

Security Technology

Data Centers have a variety of interlocking security systems. Fire alarm systems with early fire detection, for example, ensure rapid detection of fires and thus enable timely intervention before major damage occurs. Fire extinguishing systems prevent fires from starting or spreading. Intrusion alarm systems and electronic access controls ensure that the often-sensitive data in Data Centers is optimally protected.

The parts and components listed here represent only the tip of the iceberg. Professional planning is required to coordinate all requirements and properties.