Types of data centre architectures

21 May 2020

Marc Garner, VP, secure power division, Schneider Electric UK&I

Marc Garner, VP, secure power division, Schneider Electric UK&I

Today Internet use is trending towards bandwidth-intensive content and an increasing number of attached “things”.

At the same time, telco and data networks are converging into a cloud computing architecture.

To support the needs of IT today and tomorrow, computing power and storage is being inserted out on the network edge in order to lower data transport time and increase availability.

For many enterprises, there is also a need (or desire) to keep some business-critical applications on-premise. This allows for greater levels of control, meeting regulatory requirements and availability needs. Today companies can embrace a hybrid approach to IT, with some services provided via the cloud and others hosted locally in distributed IT, or edge computing solutions.

Hence the emergence of various types of data centre architectures, where localised IT systems help to increase uptime, resiliency, connectivity and application availability by using standardised, pre-configured systems, which are pre-integrated, tested at the factory level and offer an increased speed of deployment.

From the largest systems, to the smallest and most geographically dispersed distributed IT solutions, these data centres come in many shapes and sizes. Smaller systems may be required for reasons of latency—the need to ensure reliable high-speed connectivity with a low risk of delay from network congestion or distance; data sovereignty—where control of the data must remain in local hands due to security or regulation; or efficiency of operation where there are advantages to local operators retaining control of maintenance,  servicing and computing capacity in response to ever-changing needs.

Distributed IT systems host far fewer applications than larger, multi-tenant colocation, or hyperscale environments. They also tend to be deployed in locations with little or no specialist IT support on-site, meaning the ability to remote monitor them from one location is essential to ensure resiliency. Fortunately, many systems are IoT-enabled as standard and have this ability built into their very fabric.  Greater monitoring and management capabilities also allow unmanned data centres to be operated without the need for permanent on-site technical staff.

This higher degree of standardisation and pre-integration can allow customers to design bespoke systems comprising IT equipment from numerous vendors, including racks, servers and storage, to be assembled in factories and installed on site with the minimum of technical expertise. These systems are often built to specification, using the lessons learned from tried and tested reference designs to increase reliability. They can, in many cases, be customised to the user’s exact requirements.  

For security purposes, pre-integrated data centres come equipped with a variety of features such as management software, biometric access systems and cameras, alerting users to any unauthorised intrusion or tampering. 

Resilient power is essential for any data centre, especially if it is being used to support mission-critical applications. Therefore pre-integrated systems include uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), which offer battery backup in the event of a disruption or outage.

IT cooling is another key aspect and one that is in constant use from the moment a system is operational. Many pre-integrated systems offer the provision of sophisticated air-cooling, but more recently, the ability to deploy liquid cooled systems has become another consideration for High Performance Computing (HPC), hyperscale and smaller on-premise data centres.

Some standardised architectures allow the user to deploy chassis-immersion liquid cooled servers as standard, whereas others may need some level of customisation.

An interesting observation is that liquid cooling can offer lower operating costs compared to air-cooled systems, as the need for electrical fans and other components is reduced or eliminated. Nonetheless, choosing a cooling solution needs careful consideration and should always be based on the needs of the applications being hosted.

Schneider Electric has a number of tools and online resources to help guide and educate IT professionals about the various types of data centre architectures available today.