Data centre 101

Summary:Secrecy seems to shroud the data centre arena -- all well and good for security's sake, but not so great when trying to pick a provider. RMIT IT Test Labs' Kire Terzievski pulls back the curtains to find what data centre options exist.

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Security is of the utmost importance when looking at data centres -- you are putting an enormous amount of trust in someone else with your servers so you want to make sure they are using state-of-the-art security equipment and that they follow best practices.

Data centre security is generally handled on a physical and electronic level. This should start at the main entry to the data centre, which should be through a main reception area that is staffed 24x7. You should also make sure there is no more than one entrance and access should be by appointment only.

Customers should be required to provide photo ID at main reception. Once approved, visitors should be issued with a temporary ID pass by the security person. This pass should be handed back to the data centre staff when leaving, at which point the visitor will be signed off the premise.

The data centre reception should also be equipped with surveillance cameras that capture digital images of visitors at all times. A good data centre will also have specific procedures to be followed in order to get access and this might even entail having visitors escorted at all times.

The next line of security should be mantraps. A mantrap is a small room with two doors where a person is authenticated by a security guard, biometric system, or swipe card, and then allowed through the first door into the mantrap.

If an alarm is activated due to failed authentication, the first door locks, trapping the person. The person has to be authenticated again at this point to be able to get past the second door.

Some clever mantraps will use devices to weigh a person who enters to make sure only one person at a time is walking in (and not piggybacking someone else).

Both the mantrap and the main reception area are required to be bulletproof.

Data centres can occupy just one room of a building, or a floor or even a whole building. As you would imagine, they house racks full of servers (mainly 1RU) that are locked in cabinets. These cabinets are locked in cages which go the full height of the ceiling. Floors are laid out with customer cages spread over a number of rooms.

Typically, a person from the data centre would open the cage where your cabinets are. You don't get a key to your cage -- this is kept by the data centre. They, however, don't have a key to get into your cabinet, you get to hold onto that.

Cages should also be equipped with cameras that are recording at all times. The data centre should also keep a list of assets that are checked in and out by customers.

Physical security is just as important to your data centre as IT security.

We're not talking about a big security guard walking around a data centre holding a torch but rather things that will protect your assets from earthquake, fires, and flood -- all events that can spell disaster.

Topics: Security, Big Data, Hewlett-Packard, Networking

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