Understanding the Advantages and Challenges of Hyperscale Data Centers
by Andrew Lui
The world’s reliance on cloud and internet services has made hyperscale data centers more popular than ever. Hyperscale data centers are necessary to handle the ever-increasing workloads generated by applications such as video streaming, social media, cloud computing, software platforms, and big data storage. According to the Synergy Research Group, globally there were 728 hyperscale data centers at the end of 2021 and that number is projected to reach 1,200 by 2026.
Now, what exactly is a hyperscale data center? How does it differ from other data centers? And what does it take to construct one? Read on to discover the answers.
What are the Different Types of Data Centers?
There are many types of data centers and they are mainly categorized as enterprise, colocation, telecom, and of course, hyperscale. Before going into more detail about hyperscale data centers, let’s take a look at what other types of data centers there are.
Enterprise Data Centers
Enterprise data centers are the most common and widely known type. They are owned by companies and typically built on the same premises as their offices. The size of an enterprise data center varies depending on the company, ranging from a few racks in a small room to occupying an entire building.
Colocation Data Centers
Colocation data centers function similarly to an Airbnb for data centers. They rent out power, space, and cooling to other companies. Enterprises that prefer not to maintain extensive IT maintenance teams will find colocation data center an attractive option. These data centers are often large and growing in size due to the convenience they offer. As an example, Equinix's Dallas location consists of several buildings with a total space exceeding 200,000 square feet.
Telecom Data Centers
Telecom data centers are owned by service provider companies such as BT, AT&T, and Telefonica. They play a crucial role in driving content delivery, mobile services, and cloud services, with a strong emphasis on connectivity. Telecom data centers have also adopted practices from hyperscale data centers, investing in various technological advancements to enhance network capacity, reduce costs, and improve versatility.
What are Hyperscale Data Centers?
Hyperscale data centers can be defined as data centers with extensive computing capabilities and remarkable scalability. These data centers are typically constructed on expansive premises, housing thousands of racks within their buildings. A general guideline to be considered a hyperscale data center is to accommodate a minimum of 5,000 servers, occupy a facility spanning at least 10,000 square feet and provide a capacity of at least 40MW.
The other defining characteristic of a hyperscale data center is its capacity to scale up, down, and out. They are built to be extremely efficient with many redundancies to maintain high availability and reliability. Since most hyperscale data centers are running mission-critical workloads, their infrastructure must possess the flexibility to allocate computing resources to where they’re needed and facilitate exponential growth without necessitating additional cooling, power, and physical space.
What are the Challenges of Building Hyperscale Data Centers?
Building hyperscale data centers comes with its own set of challenges. There are several other challenges faced by hyperscale data centers such as location, energy costs, and security.
The size of hyperscale data centers demands substantial land and supporting infrastructure to meet their power and cooling requirements. Therefore, selecting an appropriate location poses one of the primary challenges. Rural areas may offer cost advantages, but they might lack a stable power grid or other adequate infrastructure. If we examine Google's major data center locations, we’ll notice they are typically situated near, but not within, major cities to ensure access to essential resources.
Energy cost is another very big challenge for hyperscale data centers. The large amount of power consumption demanded from running all the servers and networking equipment makes data centers one of the most energy-intensive businesses in the world. According to the United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, data centers can consume 10 to 50 times the amount of energy per floor space compared to the average commercial building and account for approximately 2% of the US’s electricity use.
To address this challenge, various approaches can be taken to construct more energy-efficient hyperscale data centers. One obvious strategy is the use of more efficient power supplies for servers and networking equipment. Advances in engineering and the use of higher-quality components have allowed power supply vendors to achieve efficiencies as high as 95%. Even a 10% increase in efficiency can mean thousands of dollars saved per rack.
Hyperscale data centers face multiple security challenges including potential data breaches, cyberattacks, and even physical robbery. You won’t see any flashy signs or pretty windows on the outside of hyperscale data centers because they want to be as unassuming as possible. On the inside, hyperscale data centers will need to pull out all the bells and whistles to ensure their equipment and data are secure.
On the outside, biometric identification security systems and security guards with military backgrounds are usually the first lines of defense. On the inside, other than monitoring equipment and people, there’s a growing need for data encryption, log auditing, and smarter firewalls to prevent cyberattacks.
Hyperscale Data Center Redundancy
Redundancy in hyperscale data centers refers to the implementation of backup or duplicate components critical to the data center's operations. These redundancies are crucial in ensuring continuous functionality with minimal downtime. Given the mission-critical nature of workloads in hyperscale data centers, any system outage can have devastating effects on a business. In fact, it was estimated in a 2021 Forbes article that a 5-hour outage at Facebook (Meta) may have cost them approximately $65 million.
There are several ways a hyperscale data center can build redundancies. One of the most common, such as having multiple sources of power in case one fails. Many hyperscale data centers are also building renewable energy sources on-site to not only become backup sources of power but also improve sustainability.
Hyperscale data centers can also have redundancies built within the equipment on their racks as well. Today, switches and servers are typically designed with redundant fans and power supplies. For example, UfiSpace’s S9300-32D data center switch is designed with 1+1 power supply redundancy and 5+1 fan redundancy. All of these are hot-swappable, meaning the power supplies and fans can be replaced while the switch is in operation, leading to even less downtime in the network.
In conclusion, hyperscale data centers have emerged as a vital infrastructure in the digital age, largely driven by the increasing demand for cloud services and data-intensive applications. These data centers offer substantial computing capabilities, scalability, and efficiency, making them an ideal choice for organizations handling large, mission-critical workloads.
However, building hyperscale data centers comes with challenges, including finding suitable locations, managing energy costs, and addressing growing cybersecurity concerns. Despite these challenges, the benefits of hyperscale data centers are significant.
Businesses adopting hyperscale data centers can anticipate enhanced efficiency, cost savings through optimized energy consumption, and improved security and reliability through the implementation of redundant systems. To stay competitive and meet the growing demands of the digital landscape, businesses should evaluate their data center needs and consider whether hyperscale data centers are the right solution for their operations. Embracing hyperscale data centers can pave the way for future growth and success in a technology-driven world.