A server is essentially a top-of-the-line computer, capable of performing key compute tasks. A typical server is usually several orders of magnitude faster and more powerful than a standard smartphone or laptop. The server is more or less the brains of the operation.
Servers contain many of the same core components as standard home or office computers, including processing chips and hard drives. But, these internal components are often designed to withstand greater rigor and perform more quickly than the chips, hard drives and other internal components for in personal use hardware. For instance, whilst many computers still have a hard disk drive for storage and memory, most servers now use solid state drives since they have fewer moving parts and are capable of performing more quickly.
Servers differ from standard computers in a few other ways. In particular, they often lack a standard visual display. They're visually analogous to the computer towers that powered desktops of yore.
Some data centres contain hardware specifically for just storing data. Often these serve as either mere backups, just in case something happens to the original copies.
Other facilities have "cold storage" for dealing with older data that can't be deleted fully. For example, older financial records and pictures taken over a decade ago would be good use cases for cold storage.
Typically the cheapest kind of storage are tape drives, which keep data on tapes similar to cassettes. Hard drives, whether hard disk drives or solid-state drives, will be deployed occasionally for standalone data storage as well.
Data Centre Networking: Switches, Modems, Routers and Cabling
Data centre hardware also encompasses all of the equipment needed to move data to and from various computers and hardwares, and to communicate with wider networks like the internet:
- Switches ensure that data packets go to and from the right location, like modernized versions of the giant phone switch boards from decades ago.
- Modems ensure that data can be sent over a given network. Data centre modems work essentially just like modems in your house or office that provide wider access to the internet.
- Routers enable multiple servers/computers to all be part of the same local area or wide area network.
- Physical cables will sometimes be deployed between servers and racks, particularly in instances where wireless connectivity will not provide enough throughput or is not reliable enough for the tasks at hand.
What is the Future of Data Centre Hardware?
Increasingly, data centres have become less reliant on hardware to function, as virtualized components become more common. In particular, virtualized machines allow one server to essentially function the same as multiple servers, whilst the trend of software-defined networking allows data centres to be less reliant on physical networking infrastructure like switches and cabling.