Data Center Terminology

Instructor: Katherine Wenger

Kate has a Bachelors, Masters, and is a Ph.D. candidate in the fields of Information Technology and loves teaching students

A data center is the facility that houses the computing and networking equipment that stores data. This lesson will provide an overview of the terminology commonly referenced when describing a data center.

What is a Data Center?

A data center is, as the term indicates, is a location that holds data. Assuming that you are familiar with the term big data, you may have wondered, where does all the data live? In short, much of the data lives at a data center. The amount of data, in terms of volume and velocity, as well as business needs, play a role in the type of location where it is stored.

In this lesson, we will go over some commonly-used terminology to describe the inner workings of a data center. A data center is a facility that provides the infrastructure to power and accommodate servers. Servers, in the general sense, are computers that store and share data.

A data center can be utilized by government, commercial, and educational organizations, all of which can transmit huge amounts of sensitive data. A significant component of a data center is the degree of security and the electrical infrastructure to keep the servers functioning. We will introduce security and electrical infrastructure later on in the lesson.


A data center, as mentioned, is a location that holds data. With that in mind, we can expand upon location. The actual location where data is being held ranges quite a bit; therefore expanding upon terminology specific to each location is helpful. With regard to location, we will review the following terms:

  • Colocation
  • Cabinet
  • Cage
  • Container
  • POD
  • Turn-key

A data center can be thought of as a storage facility, which contains several differently-sized storage units, that are leased by an individual. The storage units are secure, as is the facility, both of which can only be accessed by individuals who have leased a unit. With the visualization of a storage unit, keep in mind there are also transportable units that can be easily shipped between customers and the storage facility.

Colocation is a data center that allows a customer to lease out space within the facility. A colocation could be a cabinet or a cage. An explanation of the two types of space is presented below.

A cabinet can look very similar to a pantry-style structure with one or two doors that open up to expose the contents within. What is housed inside a cabinet are racks of servers and the electrical infrastructure supporting them, or for simplicity's sake, well-organized wiring.

A cage is a physical structure usually made of mesh wire--or, rather, heavy-duty mesh wire such as steel, that contains multiple cabinets. The cage, as you can imagine, provides an extra layer of security housing the servers within the cabinets. Access into a cage requires a higher level of security clearance.

Another option for housing servers is a container, or a Performance Optimized Data (POD) Center. A pod is an actual shipping container that generally contains the infrastructure to begin immediate use. A container that is ready for use usually houses servers, racks, and networking equipment, and can be delivered to a customer's location.

It is also worth noting, when making mention of a data center, another option commonly referred to as turn-key. A turn-key offers space in the data center facility for a customer to physically house their servers in. The benefit of a turn-key space is that the data center assumes security measures and electrical infrastructure required of the servers.

With a better understanding of what a data center is, and the various types of structures available to house data, we can move on to describing how the data is kept safe and powered. The power and security measures in place in a data center should manage the various aspects of good data housekeeping, including redundancy, reliability, and scalability.

Redundancy as it relates to a data center is the duplication of data, which is ideal in the event that data is lost in one location because it can be retrieved in another location. A data center should be reliable, which is achieved through idyllic power and security measures. As the data within an organization grows, so do the needs for additional space, and a data center should be able to accommodate such needs by having unused space.


Government and commercial organizations assimilate significant amounts of sensitive data. A data center assumes the responsibility of keeping data secure. Security of the facility is accomplished through practices that combat physical intrusion and environmental threats.The greater the use of physical security measures, the less likely an attack is to occur on the data center.

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