What Is a Datacenter?

When computers were first mass adopted in society, there were mainframes and large consoles were used to access the mainframe. These mainframes were as large as basements in modern homes or even larger; they required (at times) custom, dedicated power lines just to keep them powered.

Furthermore, they were extremely expensive (the Harvard Mark I mainframe….used in the 1940s and later … had a manufacturing cost of $200,000 USD — in 2020, that would be around $3 million USD). These mainframes were used to calculate (think SUPER calculators), primarily using information called data.

These machines were quite big; the Harvard Mark I was 9,500 pounds, or over 4 tons and was over 50 feet long. As more widespread adoption of these units became a reality, these units required massive amounts of customized real estate to house them.

Basically, you needed a large ‘center’ to house these machines that calculated new ‘data.’ Welcome to the idea of a datacenter!

A short, concise understanding of the term datacenter is a large area or room dedicated to housing larger computing devices and the network/electricity/etc. needed to keep them up and running as close to 100% of the time as possible.

Fast-forward to 2020. The typical modern datacenter may have some AS400 units (modern mainframe), but will also have large metal shelfs (called racks) which hold servers, network switches, network routers, network patch panels, backup tape drives, NAS and SAN storage units, and more. The main purpose of all these devices is to do the large calculation, manipulation, and distribution of information for an organization.

Think of it this way:

For most companies, most of the large data sets and information tables stored and updated/calculated against are stored in datacenters. Furthermore, the cloud concept is renting datacenter access from other companies (eg., Microsoft Azure).

To summarize, a data center is the large area or room dedicated to housing larger computing devices and the network/electricity/etc. needed to keep them up and running as close to 100% of the time as possible.

What Does On-Prem Mean?

Make no mistake; the cloud is the future of what business computing is going to be. Companies are now doing deeper investigations into how to use the cloud to increase profits and reduce costs. For companies like Microsoft Azure, this presents an outstanding opportunity as more companies move more of their computing tasks to the cloud.

However, this raises a question: if more businesses are moving to the cloud, where are they currently and how does it work right now?

Companies that are looking to move to cloud are largely looking to move computers and more that are currently in remote data centers and on-prem. When we say on-prem, what we mean is that the computers that do the massive processing and people who access that data are either on the same geographic campus or in the same building/complex.

Essentially, on-prem refers to being on the same premise as the person/people who are currently speaking.

Now, let’s connect this definition to the case above. The question was where are these companies currently, and how does that work right now?

Companies looking to move to the cloud in the future now have many computing resources on-prem, or in the same buildings as the people who utilize them. Examples include: on another floor of the same building, in the building next door, in a closet down the hallway, and more. The big computers (e.g., AS400 Mainframe, Cisco Nexus, Dell PowerEdge, EMC XtremIO, etc.) are usually in one or two locations if they are on-prem and all together in one big room. You may also find networking equipment in this location as well (e.g., Cisco Meraki, Cisco Catalyst 9300, Cisco Catalyst 8200 Edge uCPE, etc.).

So, in short, on-prem means at the same geographic location.