Data centers. We’ve all heard of them, but what do they really do?
A data center is a lot more than just a secure place that provides power and cooling for networks, servers and storage. The data center is one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet, and the foundation of information technology as a whole. The data center's main focus is on providing the services required to maintaining data access and protection.
Applications and users create data, and turn it into real information. In order for that to occur, the underlying data itself needs to be available, accessible, reliable and secure. Its the dedicated IT staff in the data center who make that happen. There are four core operational functions provided by the IT staff on a daily basis to make sure the data is always available for users and applications which can be considered the pillars of data management. the four pillars are storage provisioning, data protection, data replication, and recovery operations.
Let's take a closer look at each of these data management functions:
Provisioning: Data needs to be stored and accessed. The data management pillar of provisioning covers all the aspects of providing storage resources for data. The functions include storage management, I/O performance management, data tiering (making sure data resides on the right tier of storage at the right cost), capacity management, access protocol management (iSCSI, FCP, iFCP, FC-IP, IP, IB, etc), RAID management, object management, metadata management, access management, I/O troubleshooting, and security
Protection: Billions of dollars are spent each year on this pillar of data management alone. Data protection encompasses all the functions required to insure data remains available, in all its forms. Protection includes making sure the correct storage and protection technology is used for the data type and data structure (Block, File, Tape, etc). The area of protection includes multiple functions, including backup, snapshots, cloning, data striping, erasure coding, journaling, mirroring, and other deeper mechanisms such as ECC logic, parity generation, R/W verify operations, deduplication, encoding, encryption, and security.
Replication: Data needs to move and stay agile. Replication covers all the IT functions required to assure data stays available even when the underlying storage technology changes, or if disaster strikes. Some of the areas impacted by data replication are networking, WAN management, encryption, mirroring, disaster recovery and business continuity, synchronous and asynchronous protocol management, network bandwidth management, capacity management, storage management, recovery service levels, and security.
Recovery: Access to information is continuous around the globe. If something breaks, you need to be sure it does not impact operations or the business. Data recovery covers a multitude of functions, which are intertwined with all the other pillars within the data center. Recovery involves the entire stack, from user access to the application itself, to where and how the data is stored. Some of the functions which are impacted by the data management pillar of recovery are data service level agreements (SLA), data retention policy management, storage management, network management, data archiving, data and application consistency grouping, server management, database administration, records management, business continuity, critical records analysis, regulatory policies and adherence, auditing, facilities management, contracts, human resources, and security.
You will notice that security is included as a major function within all four pillars of data management, and could be considered a pillar all by itself. I include it here as a function which needs to be included in every aspect of data center operations. I hope this short overview is helpful in understanding what data centers do, and if you are thinking of becoming an IT expert, the areas you may want to focus on.
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