In the early days of computing, computers were huge devices containing thousands of vacuum tubes (they look similar to light bulbs) that filled entire rooms and would require their own specialized electric supplies and cooling systems. Today, a computer that once took up an entire room can be made even smaller than the size of your fingernail. But one thing hasn’t changed: we still store computers in giant rooms with sophisticated electric, cooling, and even dust-reducing systems.
We call these complexes “data centers,” a term that at its core means little more than a room containing multiple computers. While this definition probably includes the server room in your typical office building, it more often than not refers to massive complexes that store incredible amounts of data.
Thanks to cloud computing, ubiquitous internet access, smartphones, laptops, and mobile data plans, we increasingly expect our data to travel with us even when our computers cannot. Consumers store almost everything in the cloud today, from their email to their family photos, which means easy access on the go. And where is all that data stored? Data centers.
A single server today is often only a few inches tall, a few feet deep, and can be stacked with dozens of other computers inside a data center. Imagine thousands, even tens of thousands, of such computers all buzzing away together, each packed to the gills with hard drives. That’s what it takes for modern cloud data to function reliably: enormous amounts of data being stored in a single secure location. A data center.