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November 14, 2023

How to Keep Your Data Center Physically Protected

Your data centers keep your IT department, and your entire organization running. If you want to continue working efficiently and without interruptions, it's important to employ measures to protect your servers and equipment.

Most data center managers understand the importance of cybersecurity, especially with compromised data becoming more expensive and common by the year. But it’s also important to keep your data center physically protected.

How do you do it?

Geographic Location

First, you need to think about the physical, geographic location of your data center. Some locations are inherently more physically secure than others, due to their proximity to potential hazards and threats as well as their exposure to potential natural disasters.

If an area is particularly prone to disasters like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or other physically destructive events, it's probably not going to make for a good data center location. Additionally, it's important to avoid putting your data center too close to highly trafficked areas or in close physical proximity with other buildings, where a fire could easily spread; ideally, your data center will be as isolated as possible.

Of course, it's also important to have backups. Many organizations use two or more data centers in totally different locations to mitigate even the most remote possibilities that a natural disaster strikes.

Fire Prevention and Control

Fires are a major threat to data centers (and computer equipment in general). If a fire becomes intense enough or spreads sufficiently, it could compromise your entire operation. Moreover, fires can start and spread easily in many data centers.

Something as simple as a component overheating could be the root cause of a fire that consumes your entire building – and even with the best fire mitigation strategies in place, arson is still a risk.

The best approach is to have a comprehensive plan for fire prevention and control. That includes modular fire suppression systems designed for use with data centers, protecting your equipment not only from spreading flames but also from water or damaging chemicals. Additionally, it's important to have measures in place to minimize the risk of a fire breaking out.

External Appearance

External appearance may seem like a superficial consideration, but it's a very important one. Imagine that there's a gigantic sign outside of your data center that says, in big flashing lights, “THIS IS AN EXPENSIVE DATA CENTER. PLEASE DON’T DAMAGE IT.” You might as well invite the nefarious parties in and encourage them to engage in destructive acts.

It's much better for your data center exterior to be nondescript, if not totally blank. People should not know that this is a data center, nor should they be able to affiliate it with your brand.

Entry Points and Barriers

Your first line of physical defense will be your entry points and barriers. It's important to prevent unauthorized parties from getting access to your equipment, so keep the number of entry points to a minimum. Ideally, you'll have only one main point of entry. It's also prudent to establish thick, defensive barriers that prevent possible breaches.

Segmentation and Isolation

Physically, your data center should be segmented and isolated. No individual should have full access to all your equipment at once. This allows you to compartmentalize risk, so that even if one section of your data center is compromised, the remaining sections can remain intact.

Cooling and Hazard Mitigation

There are many potential physical hazards that could threaten your equipment from the inside. You need to identify these hazards and have a plan.

For example, components overheating can start a fire or degrade your equipment. Effective cooling measures can typically mitigate this risk.

Leaks and water damage can compromise your equipment at large scales. It's important to have some kind of water detection mechanism in place.

Rodents can also be a problem, as can insects. Effective sealing and pest control measures can greatly reduce these risks.

Video Monitoring/Surveillance

It's indispensable to have a video monitoring and surveillance strategy in place. If someone enters your data center for any reason, you should know about it. If someone gets access to your computer and server rooms, you should know who they are and why they're there. You should be able to catch unauthorized parties before they're able to do any damage, and in a worst-case scenario, you should be able to clearly identify any parties who damage your equipment.

Keep in mind that this monitoring needs to happen in layers. You need to monitor the exterior, the initial point of entry, and every important section of your data center. Ideally, you'll employ 24/7 monitoring.

Ongoing Maintenance and Improvements

It's also important to execute ongoing maintenance and continue making improvements whenever you can. Even simple measures, like replacing worn out components, can decrease the likelihood of a physical event compromising the integrity of your data center.

Important Tips for Better Physical Security

You can also follow these tips for better physical security in your data center:

·       Increase your budget. As you’ve likely already realized, many of the strategies and pieces of effective data center physical security aren't cheap. But they are worth the investment. Consider increasing your budget so you have access to the mitigation strategies you need.

·       Learn from the best. Learn from people who have managed data centers in the past. What do the best people in the industry do? What are all the accepted best practices? Who can advise your data center planning?

·       Hire the right people. From infrastructure architects to part-time security guards, it's important to hire thoughtfully. Hire based on experience and competence, run security checks, and make sure everyone on your team understands how important security is for this data center.

Data centers are growing in power, number, and importance in our modern business environment. But if you fail to take proper, adequate physical security measures, your investment could falter. Be proactive in evaluating, mitigating, and controlling for the risks associated with these physical threats; otherwise, you may come to regret it.

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