Working in a Data Center: What Is It Like?

Here’s what it is like working in a data center:

There are many different jobs one can have at a data center, and each center is managed uniquely and for specific purposes.

That said, you can expect a few things regardless of your job and data center.

There will probably be heavy security, a lot of ambient noise, extreme hot and cold temperatures, and few people.

So if you want to learn all about what it is like to work in a data center, then this article is for you.

Let’s get right into it!

Working in a Data Center: What Is It Like? (4 Jobs)

What Is Working in a Data Center Like?

Working at a data center, like working anywhere else, will depend on the specific job you have and who you work for.

There is no universal answer where I can tell you what it’s like to work at every single data center.

Some data centers serve small or medium businesses, and they aren’t all that large.

Other data centers are run by Google and power every single search you’ve ever made on the internet.

There’s a big range here, and that leaves a lot of room for difference.

To account for that, I’m going to break the answer up into more than a few different components.

First, I’ll talk about things that are common to a lot of data centers and a lot of jobs within any one data center.

Then, I’ll break things up by job description and talk about how they might be different at a data center as compared to a different place of work.

What Are Some Things You Can Expect Regardless of the Job? (4 Things)

No two data centers are identical, but from a certain perspective, they’re all trying to accomplish the same goal.

Data centers use a bunch of technology to try to manage huge amounts of data at a time.

That generality leads to a few common things that you’ll find at almost every data center, big, small, or in between.

#1 Security

Data centers tend to house very expensive equipment.

The cabling alone can easily cost millions of dollars (fiber optics are not cheap).

That’s to say nothing of the devices working very hard to run whatever is managed by that particular data center.

The crazy part is that the equipment is not the most valuable thing in most data centers.

Instead, the data they house is actually worth more.

So, security is usually pretty important.

You don’t want there to be any chance of anyone stealing or damaging that outrageously expensive equipment.

More importantly, you don’t want any unauthorized person to be able to access the data stored within. 

Data breaches are extremely expensive, and one of the easiest ways to breach data is to physically go to a data center and mess with the hardware.

No matter what job you have at the data center, you can expect that you have to regularly show your credentials to get in.

There are often strict protocols around data centers, and breaking any of them can get you fired immediately.

A lot of data centers won’t allow visitors of any type, so if your spouse wanted to bring the packed lunch that you forgot, you’re out of luck.

Security is a big deal at most centers.

#2 Temperatures

It’s easy to overlook when you’ve never worked with large numbers of computers, but data centers generate a ton of heat.

In fact, the highest operational cost for most data centers is cooling.

It costs more to keep the equipment cool than it does to power that same equipment.

It’s mind-boggling to think about.

So, if you’re in the midst of the racks, deep in the realm of hard-working computers, things can get pretty hot.

But, when you’re not working the racks, things can actually get pretty cold.

It’s usually more efficient to use centralized cooling mechanisms in a data center, so if you’re in a control room, walking down a hallway, or otherwise away from the computers, data centers are notoriously cold.

This isn’t always the case, but more often than not, data center work is best done with a jacket or a hoodie.

#3 Noise

Now that we’re thinking about the impact of putting tons and tons of computers in a single building, it might make sense to you to learn that data centers are very noisy.

One computer usually isn’t so loud, but the thousands that you will find in a big data center add up and create a regular cacophony of sound.

If you read reviews and advice from people who work in data centers, one of the most-repeated suggestions is to bring noise-canceling headphones to work.

The noise can get to you after a while, no matter your specific job description.

#4 Emptiness

Let me clarify.

Data centers are not usually large, empty warehouses with a handful of computers somewhere.

They are usually packed to the brim with technology, so much so that space management is an important aspect of engineering spaces. 

Despite that, they can feel pretty empty, and that’s because you probably won’t be working closely with other humans.

This will clearly depend on where you work and how it is managed, but data centers are all about automation.

In fact, they are the physical resources that make automation possible in so many applications.

The goal for most data centers is to minimize the number of human bodies required to keep everything running.

It means that the majority of data center jobs have minimal human contact.

If you like lots of socialization at work, this might not be the right niche for you.

What Are Some of the Different Jobs in a Data Center? (4 Jobs)

With all of that covered, we can take a closer look at what work is like in a data center.

What are some of the specific jobs that people do, and how is it different from working anywhere else?

#1 Maintenance

A data center needs the same kinds of maintenance as any other building.

I’m not talking about the people who maintain the servers (I’ll discuss that a little later).

I mean, data centers need janitorial staff.

There are restrooms and such that need regular attendance to keep everything clean and functional.

Maintenance at a data center is the same as anywhere else in some regards.

You’re using the same skills, just in a different building.

But, when you consider the universal factors I mentioned earlier, doing maintenance at a data center can feel a little weird and possibly quite rewarding.

You’ll still have to deal with the enhanced security.

You’ll also need to figure out how to cope with the noise, temperatures, and emptiness.

In those ways, it might not feel like a normal maintenance job.

#2 Security

Also, if you’re going to maintain very high levels of security, then you’re going to need personnel dedicated to that outcome.

I’ve mentioned that data centers try to minimize the number of bodies on location, and that applies to security too.

But, some level of onsite security personnel is pretty normal for these places.

Once again, the general security aspects are standard here.

You make sure only authorized people get in.

But, the regulations at a data center are usually much stricter than in other places where you might work.

It might feel like you’re guarding a top-secret installation, and in a manner of speaking, that’s kind of the case.

#3 Oversight

Data centers also have managers.

They’re not special in this regard.

And, as you can see in the emerging theme, managing a data center has a lot in common with managing other facilities.

There are some key differences here, though.

First, the nature of automation means that you might spend very little time on site if you’re a data center manager.

You might even be able to find management roles that are completely remote.

Second, the nature of the thing you manage matters.

As a data center manager, you should have a strong understanding of networking, security, and general IT.

You might even have to work as an IT engineer before getting such a role.

Working as a data center manager is demanding, often stressful, and specialized.

It can also be very rewarding.

These jobs tend to pay well, but they come with pressure.

Data centers manage a lot of things for a lot of people.

If you’re the single person in charge of the facility, it’s up to you to make sure nothing ever goes wrong.

It’s not a low-pressure, low-stress job.

#4 IT

I’m throwing a lot of things into a big, general category to keep this simple.

The way I’m using it right now, IT could include the technicians who run cables and swap drives and do all of the physical things that keep the center running.

It could also include network engineers who designed the whole thing.

It could include anything in between.

When you do the kind of work that people probably associate with a data center, then I’m throwing you into the IT category for the sake of this discussion.

With these jobs, data centers tend to offer high-level work.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is up to the job, and even with a data center, there are entry-level positions.

But, when you consider the value of the equipment and data in the place, it’s not surprising to learn that data centers try to hire competitively.

The average IT worker at a data center will have more experience and expertise than someone running help desk support for a local small business.

Among the people who are properly hired, you will often see high levels of competence and understanding. 

Data centers are where a lot of cutting-edge technologies are truly field tested.

So, the people running them tend to be informed and at the front edge of the industry.