OPINION: Whatever happened to the “server room?”

Is a one-size fits all approach to data centers healthy?

SearchStorage ANZ has covered a lot of data center issues this year and the more we do so, the more we wonder just how a data center ought to be defined these days.

One of the reasons we wonder about where a data center starts and some other facilities ends is that it is now possible to pack an awful lot of computing equipment into a rack or two. In fact, we are pretty sure it would not be hard to get 100 CPU cores, a jolly big switch and a few petabytes of storage into the average broom closet without turning it into a rat's nest of cabling.

If one did construct such a closet, would it qualify as a data center? And if not , what are the criteria that elevate some densely-packed racks to data center status?

Another reason for our ponderings is that we constantly hear of “data center products ” and feel it is odd to tie products to a physical space. Our hypothetical closet, for example, is as deserving of “data center” technologies like virtualization as a commercial colocation facility hardened to survive events that would would cause consternation to cockroaches.

Facilities on that scale, we feel sure, definitely qualify as data centers. Their massive cooling apparatuses and diesel generators are dead giveaways. Yet we regularly hear the industry apply the same term to facilities of vastly smaller size, even the kind of kit that fits into our hypothetival closet.

This makes us wonder why we don't also hear more finely graded descriptions of computing facilities. There's no shame, after all, in operating a “server room” instead of a data center, just as there is no shame in being a midmarket company instead of an “enterprise.”

There may, however, be some downside to forcing anyone with a decent collection of computers to consider themselves a data center, when today's equipment can plainly survive outside their walls – whatever it is they definitively enclose!

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