Quick trip to a data centre

You may have heard of a major University infrastructure project recently. It involved new data centre arrangements and greater resilience for our critical IT systems, which you can read more about in this online edition of Blueprint magazine

But what are they?

For the uninitiated, what exactly is a data centre? And why are they important?

You may have already glimpsed one at a school, college or workplace. It is usually some form of dim and locked room which houses physical machines (servers). For larger and more complex set-ups, imagine walking down some darkened aisles of a library. But instead of bookshelves, you stroll past racks of vertically stacked machinery. Small lights are flickering, fans are humming, and you may enjoy the industrious atmosphere. 

Four images showing data centre move (servers, wires etc)

To really oversimplify it: Our own IT Services data centres provide centralised digital storage and backup for a lot of University work. 

But data centres don’t exist in isolation. These physical spaces and buildings use high capacity links (such as cables, pipes and other infrastructure) to hook into networks of many kinds. Just one example is the Joint Academic Network (Janet), a research and education network that is itself linked into larger networks around the world like Geant, Amazon and Google.

Keeping them running

Back in Oxford, much effort goes into making sure our data centres stay physically optimal. Henryk Glogowski, Head of Networks and Data Centres explains that, machines, like us, need the right environment to work well. 

If you think of it like a hotel, our servers need to be kept comfortable: not too hot and not too cold

Therefore, temperatures are carefully monitored and managed while the machines physically ‘toil’ away. They are also shielded from leaks, moisture and other risks such as human disruptions, breaches or break-ins. 

Henryk also added that one of the important parts of a data centre is, in fact, sustainability. 

They do use up a lot of electricity, so we’re always trying to optimise where we can and avoid wasting power  

Want to know more?

You can find key information, links and contacts for University networks and infrastructure services on our website.