Where Is My Data Stored? Finding the Lost Archives of Your Life and Business

Have you ever seen the Matrix?

I’m guessing you have or at least get the gist (unless you’ve been living under a rock). But with the enormous developments in tech, is that story coming to life?Well, no, not quite. This article isn’t here to tout conspiracy theories at you, but you indeed can, in some sense, think of the data world like the Matrix. There’s a second world that exists, but we can’t see it.

Unfortunately, there’s no pill to take to go there, though. The internet and all the millions and billions of connections it makes to improve our everyday life is this second world. We store family photos and work documents, have social lives, and connect with this second world all the time.

But where is it? And, more to the point, where is my data? Even if something’s on the cloud or the internet, it must exist somewhere. Just like the physical storage on your computer, data is somewhere.

To answer quickly, your data is in a data center … somewhere. If that’s all you needed to know, you could stop reading, but please stick around because there is so much more to unpack. And chances are it might freak you out a little, but it’s worth knowing.

We’ll get into this and more in this article, but first, let’s discuss some terminology.

What Is a Data Center?

The second world exists in a data center. You can think of a data center as a self-storage center you might use to keep belongings. Because your house has limited space, you put your items in a storage center once you run out of room. The garage can only hold so much after all.

A data center is similar. Your computer has a hard drive. If you need more storage than that, you could build a small server room. If you need even more storage, you could rent out space to host all that data. And usually you rent that space from a data center.

That’s, of course, an incomplete explanation of a data center. If you’re looking for a more detailed description, our article explaining what a data center is will make this article a lot easier to understand.

There is another option though. A lot of people turn to a public cloud service provider like Google or Dropbox when they need more storage. Using this, they can add just a few gigabytes of data or a countless TBs of data.

Once your data is in the cloud, it goes to data center, of course. Google, Dropbox, Microsoft Cloud, and every other data storage service uses a data center to store your information. Unfortunately, when using a public option, you can’t know where. But that’s part of the reason you can add data for a low upfront cost.

However, that’s not the only use of data centers. Even if you don’t use a public cloud service, your information is in a data center. Most people alive have information in a data center. Why?

Everything that exists on the internet is in a data center somewhere in the world.

Maybe the Matrix is real.

Even if you tried to go off-grid, all the internet data on your devices would still be kept in a data center. If you’ve ever been to the doctor, dealt with the government, or even just been to school, it’s more than likely they’ve stored your data in a data center, in one way or another.

How Can I Control My Data Storage?

​Unfortunately, people who use public clouds can’t really control where their data goes. Public cloud companies have their own data centers or outsource to data centers to store your data. And you can’t know where.

If you’re a high-level user of a public cloud option, you can sometimes request that they store your data in a specific region or country. But you still can’t choose a particular data center.

We’ve only been discussing public clouds though. There is an alternative: private clouds.

Admittedly, private clouds aren’t for anybody. Joe Schmo doesn’t need a private cloud, but Joe Schmo & Sons: Attorneys at Law might. Private clouds are usually for businesses.

Joe Schmo & Sons: Attorneys at Law could build its own data center for millions of dollars and store their data that way. More often though, companies will purchase a private cloud option from a data center. If they rent servers, we call this colocation.

Businesses turn to private clouds for more than extra storage space. Security, cyber and physical, is usually the main draw. Good data centers, which host private clouds, have excellent cybersecurity protocols. They also create safeguards for fire, flood, weather, and theft. Armed guards, multi-level security access, and protective equipment all work to keep your data secure.

Another reason to consider a data center is compliance. Often, businesses need to have private servers to comply with industry standards such as HIPAA or SOC.

But, just like every business, servers in the healthcare or finance industry will run out of space. Turning to colocation solutions allows them to control their IT infrastructure without sacrificing office space.

Here are some other reasons to switch:

  • Customizable plans
  • Faster speeds
  • Control of data
  • Ease of access

One important note is that data centers aren’t usually targets of cybercrime, but sizeable public cloud options are. A data center in Knoxville, TN isn’t a high-level target because a non-enterprise data center isn’t worth a hacker’s time. The payoff isn’t as significant. 

But hackers do go after large companies who use public clouds. Just last month, Acer, a Fortune 500 company, was attacked with ransomware because of a failure in their public cloud option.

How Can I Control My Data Storage?

Data centers are complex, and understanding where your data is in one is can be even more complicated. For public cloud users, your data isn’t stored in one data center. The data is spread across the world in various locations.

Even if all your data were in one data center, you wouldn’t be able to know where. A process called virtualization means that your data never stays in the same place.

Virtualization moves data back and forth between servers within data centers. It does this because a server can only carry so much data, and too much load means servers send data to users slower.

In this process, servers offload less-utilized data to other servers. This keeps the load lower on the servers users need more often. 

Here’s a simple example: Let’s say you host software you use daily on a server that also stores old client records you don’t look at often. The server will recognize this and offload the documents to a second server to make the software faster.

When you need those client records later, retrieving them might take a few milliseconds longer. But your software will work faster every day.

Virtualization also means that if one server fails, a different server will save the data. It increases the second server’s load and may impact speeds. But it also ensures that your data doesn’t disappear before the IT team can replace the failed server.

There’s no way to know which server is currently hosting the data you want to remove. The spy movie scenes that show someone stealing a server don’t work. To destroy data from a data center, you’d have to demolish the entire building.

And believe it or not, breaking into and dismantling a data center is illegal. And anyway, the data center probably uses a backup data center, so destroying the data center wouldn’t work. In other words, don’t try this at home.

Of course, if you delete the file on your account, the server will remove the data. So that’s easier than committing a felony.

Virtualization works the same way with a private data center, but you don’t share servers with other people. In public data centers, your data will share space with other people’s data.

Private clouds move your data throughout servers that belong to you only. Doing this keeps your data more secure, while also giving you the benefits of faster speeds and virtualization.

Where Is My Data Located? It Depends.

Let’s go back to the first question: Where is my data? In short, it depends on the type of cloud you use, where you are located, and what you choose to store. If you’re using a public cloud, your data could be anywhere in the world, but a private cloud can show you the server cabinet that hosts your data.

Our IT team is happy to help you get started with a private cloud or manage the complex aspects of a public cloud. Please get in touch with us to learn more.

Picture of Aaron Sherrill

Aaron Sherrill

Aaron is the Chief Technology Officer at TenHats leading the technology, cybersecurity, and data center teams of our organization. He has 25+ years of IT and security experience spanning across a variety of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, and software development.

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