Data CenterData Center Architecture

Describing Data Centers to Poets: the Human Body Analogy

As someone who works in or around data centers for a living, you’ve likely had the experience of trying to explain to someone who is not up to speed just what it is that you do day to day. Invariably, a glaze washes over their face as you talk about all the computers, storage systems, power and cooling infrastructure that go into bringing them the likes of Facebook and gmail.

So it seems worthwhile to try to come up with a simple way to describe what goes on in a data center to someone who has no idea what it’s all about. Here is a collection of definitions from popular sites:

  • Wikipedia – a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It generally includes redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls (e.g., air conditioning, fire suppression) and security devices
  • Whatis.com – a centralized repository, either physical or virtual, for the storage, management, and dissemination of data and information organized around a particular body of knowledge or pertaining to a particular business
  • Dictionary.com – a facility equipped with or connected to one or more computers used for processing or transmitting data

As you can see, these definitions vary quite a bit, leaving us unfulfilled in defining what a data center really is. After going through this exercise, I got to thinking about ways to discussion data centers that make it easier for folks to understand – while having a bit of fun.

As I see it, a data center is like the human body, made up of a combination of important and essential components and organs.  A quick breakdown might go something like this:

Heart = CPU, the computers that pump away, doing all the work that makes the data center useful

Muscles = Rows and racks that house the CPU and other required components

Veins = Electrical wire that bring the juice to the CPU and other organs, enabling them to function

Nerves = Network cabling, whether copper or fiber, that transport important data among the devices

Lungs = Air conditioning that ensures the whole data center “body” is at the right temperature for optimum performance

Stomach = UPS and generators that provide energy to the system

Senses = Security systems that tell us when something isn’t quite right

Brain = Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) systems that take in information from all the other components, make sense of it all and help to optimize the data center as a whole.

Comparing a data center to the human body makes it easier to understand not only the various functions that go into a typical data center, but also the idea that they are all related. Too often, we fail to consider how an update to one component will impact the data center as a whole.

In future posts I’ll review that idea and define further how each organ relates to a specific data center function.


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