ISJ Exclusive: At the data centre of it all


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Step aside gold. Step aside oil. There’s a new sheriff in town. The most precious and coveted commodity in today’s modern world is data. Data is everywhere. Data is everything. Or better put, data drives everything. For businesses and organisations across the globe, data provides infinite possibilities – meaningful insights into consumer behaviour, identifying trends and new opportunities and gaining an edge over competitors to name a few.

The adoption of digital technologies, cloud services, smart devices and the IoT have all grown, and will continue to grow, at a rapid rate. The impact of the pandemic has accelerated the need and demand for digital communications to enable remote working and learning. All of this, in turn, has driven huge growth and an increased need for data centres. After all, this big data needs to be stored somewhere. And crucially, it needs to be stored in a safe environment.

Despite the seemingly limitless possibilities and positive uses of data, there are real dangers. Much has been written about misuse of data, invasions of privacy and GDPR, and similarly, news of cyber-attacks and cyber criminals with malicious intent targeting individuals, organisations and governments continue to make negative headlines.

Neil Foster, Project Development Manager, OPTEX EMEA explores the challenges facing data centres and how a multi-layered approach to physical security helps minimise and prevent threats.

While there is rightly a strong focus on cybersecurity and ensuring data stores and smart devices are encrypted and fully secured, not all cyber threats involve a computer. Physical intrusion and unauthorised access to a data centre represents a very real threat and should not be overlooked.

Taking a multi-layered approach to security, which combines protection of the data centre or building perimeter and approach and all internal areas all the way through to the server room, arguably the most critical area to protect, can help to minimise any security threat, and by definition, help keep data safe and uncompromised.

Perimeter and building protection

The first layer of security that needs to be considered is the building approach and perimeter to detect any unwanted intruders attempting to gain unauthorised access to the premises. Data centres come in all shapes and sizes and they can be found anywhere. London and Dublin has seen a big increase in data centres, with Frankfurt, Paris and Stockholm also among the cities looking to expand infrastructure. No matter where they are, the key is to utilise technologies that meet site conditions and environments.

It’s common for data centres to have perimeter fencing and/or access gates acting as the first layer of ‘defence’. But, these alone are not enough to prevent unwanted intrusion, whether that’s someone attempting to climb over, under or cut through the fence or gate. Intelligent intrusion detection technologies, such as fibre optic sensors, can be mounted on a fence to provide an additional layer of security and will detect anyone attempting to infiltrate the property. Fibre optic technology from OPTEX is not affected by electrical or radio interference; its intelligent detection algorithm can distinguish between a ‘real’ intrusion and movement caused by small animals or harsh weather conditions, to help prevent unnecessary and unwanted nuisance alarms, meaning the security team can focus on genuine threats.  

If an intruder does manage to enter the perimeter, precise and reliable volumetric detection around the building can support video surveillance and will allow the security team to track the exact location of one or several individuals attempting to access the building.

The majority of data centre buildings do not have exterior windows and have very few entry points. However, consideration should be given to the building structure itself to prevent the potential threat of intruders attempting to drill a hole through the wall, gain access via the ventilation system or via the roof. As with fencing, fibre optic sensors can be wall-mounted and utilised to detect any attempt to damage a wall or ceiling. LiDAR technology can provide an additional layer too, by creating virtual ‘walls’ to provide highly accurate and reliable detection around the building structure and on roofs. OPTEX lasers feature an intelligent logic so events can be filtered, for instance, alerting only when an individual is approaching a building and a guard is not on site. 

Access control

Controlling access to the building and secured areas is absolutely vital. Of course, all data centres should have access/entrance control systems in place, whether that be entry turnstiles, key cards, restricted access areas etc.; these will vary from site to site, but their importance should not be underestimated.

One major risk is tailgating – installing an anti-tailgating system in combination with an access control system can provide an immediate alert to security staff and verify access to the secured area.

If access into the building is controlled via turnstiles, LiDAR technology can provide an additional layer of protection by creating a virtual wall above the turnstiles. The sensors can be utilised to create one detection zone per turnstile and, when connected to the access control system, it will instantly detect a person going through a turnstile without swiping their access card or attempting to jump or climb over the barrier.

Server rooms

At the heart of any data centre is the server room or rooms, depending on the scale. An area of restricted access, typically only accessible to technicians and engineers responsible for maintaining, repairing or upgrading the equipment in place. From a security perspective, it’s crucial to ensure that only authorised personnel have access to the room and the server racks. Failure to do so can result in devastating consequences.

In terms of best suited technology for securing server rooms, LiDAR sensors, such as OPTEX’s REDSCAN series, certainly tick all the boxes. The sensors offer extremely flexible detection and can operate in even complete darkness, making them ideal for server rooms. 2D LiDARS can be utilised to create virtual ceilings, walls and floors, allowing customisable detection areas to effectively ‘cocoon’ server units and ensure there are no gaps.

The sensors can also create different detection zones to protect the different server racks and can be linked to the access control system. The sensor technology can also determine the exact X,Y coordinates of intrusion and can be utilised to locate the exact server or data rack which has been attempted to be compromised and trigger cameras to look at the precise location of intrusion, enabling a faster response. In the event of an individual who was authorised to access rack one, but was tampering with rack two, the system would be activated and could be triggered to notify the security team. The size of the target object can also be customised to provide an alert if something as small as someone’s hand attempts to reach a server to plug in a network cable or a USB stick.

Power and storage supplies

Within any data centre, it’s not just the server rooms and data racks which need critical attention. Power supplies, control rooms and storage supplies also need sufficient monitoring and protection. Of course, no matter the size or scale, if the power fails, then all operations come to a halt with the risk of data being corrupted or lost altogether as well as damage to vital equipment. The need to protect these supplies, as well as backup generators, cannot be overlooked.

As with power supplies and control rooms, equipment storage areas should be restricted to authorised personnel only. Equipment stored in these rooms is highly valuable and sensitive; ensuring servers and data does not fall into the wrong hands is vital.

Early detection can make a big difference, allowing alerts of any potential threats before the individual(s) accesses these highly valuable areas within the site. Intrusion detectors sensors, such as REDSCAN LiDARs, can act as a powerful component of a wider high-security ecosystem, integrating with VMS, alarms, video cameras, access control, perimeter access and more. The sensors can automatically adjust to different environmental conditions and times of day and are adaptable to different threat levels.

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to securing a data centre; every site has it owns conditions and requirements that need to be considered when it comes to security. But, creating and utilising an effective security system that combines different sensing technologies to provide multiple layers of detection gives you the best possible chance of keeping your facility, and your data, safe and secure.

This article was originally published in the November edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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