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How to select the right data center design for your business

by David Chernicoff
With so many data center design options, your next IT solution may look nothing like you'd expect.

With the rate at which hardware and software technologies have been changing over the last few years, the days of the data center with an extended lifespan may well be behind us. Are you looking to replace an existing facility, or even create a new one? Has your business grown to the point where, for the first time, a dedicated facility makes sense?

If your business is weighing its data center design options, there are several factors you should consider. 
Data center

The dedicated data center

Data center options come in all shapes and sizes. On the small end you have the micro data center. The micro data center offers a variety of solutions, designed to support up to a full rack of IT load equipment. These boxes can be entirely self-contained, including space for all the IT load equipment, cooling and backup power. Their small size and the minimal impact they have on the surrounding environment means that micro data centers can be deployed just about anywhere in your business.

The next step up is the containerized data center. This configuration has a complete data center built into a structure resembling a shipping container — 20 or even 40 feet tall. Depending on your needs, you may have a single container or multiple containers, with some dedicated to IT load and others dedicated to backup power and cooling. Containerized data centers are designed to sit in a dedicated building, a parking lot alongside your facility, or a similar location in the field. They can be used as your primary facility, a method of expanding an existing data center, a field expedient for a specific project, or simply as a secondary site for backup/disaster recovery/business continuity.

It’s important not to confuse a containerized data center with what is called a “modular” data center, though. The two terms are often used interchangeably in the industry, but — although both data center options can be placed in outdoor locations and are completely self-contained — they are not the same. A modular data center features a standardized configuration of racks, power and cooling that can be deployed as an individual unit within a greater data center facility or plan. Modular data centers are especially useful when you’re looking to upgrade an existing data center facility. 

Business leaders should look for data center options that easily allow for both the maintenance of day-to-day IT needs and the handling of emergency workloads.


The multi-tenant data center

The multi-tenant data center, also known as a co-location provider, is a vendor-owned location. As a tenant, you would purchase space within the data center facility and gain access to the variety of services the vendor offers. This data center option is usually carrier neutral — meaning you pick which network you want to run on — and often allows for service-level agreements (SLAs) that allow you to set the level of service you’re willing to pay for. Service levels vary from basic facility services, where the customer (i.e., you) provides all operational personnel, to completely hands-off solutions, where the vendor handles all day-to-day operations and the customer never sees the inside of the building.

Vendors may offer anything from a rack in a data hall to entire data halls for a single customer. Modularization has also become popular among multi-tenant data centers, with some based on the self-contained modular data center model, where each individual modular unit is dedicated to a single customer. 

What’s right for your business

It’s not unusual for businesses to make use of both dedicated facilities and multi-tenant options simultaneously. Your business needs will determine how important off-site backup, disaster recovery and business continuity solutions are. But all business leaders should look for data center options that easily allow for both the maintenance of day-to-day IT needs and the handling of emergency workloads.

Don’t skimp on this important aspect of your IT infrastructure. Having the right backbone for your network will go a long way toward building your business for the future. 

Be constantly vigilant to a changing landscape

Stay informed and enlist help to choose the design that's right for your business.
David Chernicoff
With experience ranging from database developer, to software development and testing management, to being the CTO at a network management ISV, David Chernicoff brings close to 30 years of experience in IT to his writing. After running testing labs for major magazines in the 90’s, he went off on his own, providing consulting services to business across the SMB market as well as continuing to actively write books, magazine articles and blogs on topics as diverse as desktop migration and datacenter energy efficiency optimization.