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Digging into the underground datacentre

'The Bunker', a concrete structure under the Kent countryside, is a major datacentre and backup facility for some of the UK's leading companies
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1 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

"The Bunker" is touted as one of the most secure datacentres in the country, in terms of both physical and information security.

Purpose-built in a nuclear bunker decommissioned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the 1990s, the site in Kent is supposedly safe from nuclear, chemical and biological attack.

As well as being underground, the bunker is encased in walls three metres thick, enough to absorb any explosion. The 18-acre site is surrounded by fencing three metres high, topped by a sprawl of barbed wire. Drivers must park outside the property and pass through this barrier. The security point at the barrier, fronted by bullet-proof glass, is manned on every day of the year by ex-police and ex-MoD guards.

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2 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

If an intruder managed to bypass the guards, they would also have to deal with MoD-trained dogs.

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3 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

Notices en route to the site remind visitors that security is paramount. Corporate organisations, such as Scottish Widows, Towers Perrin and Capita, house their equipment here partly as a result of that focus.

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4 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

The Bunker is hidden deep under this hill, descending 100 feet underground. Dual CCTV cameras flank the entrance, next to blast-proof steel doors, weighing a total of seven tonnes.

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5 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

Building downwards into the Kent countryside causes the same problems as building upwards in London: heavy kit must still be transported between floors. This hoist is responsible for lowering servers down into the datacentre, which measures 25,000 square feet.

The Bunker has multiple advantages over London datacentres. For instance, the risk of flooding or terrorist activity is minimal and there are no impending power constraints. It's also far easier to keep the datacentre cool, as the natural temperature underground is 13°C.

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6 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

The kit is stored in the most secure part of this purpose-built fortress. Servers are housed in large Faraday cages, in rooms entered through airlocks. Customers are escorted at all times.

The Bunker offers both co-lo and managed services, and claims never to allow the sharing of equipment. It provides a variety of hosting platforms, although it is particularly keen on open source: director of security Ben Laurie is the creator of Apache-SSL. Recognising The Bunker's security expertise, Microsoft awarded the company with gold-partner status last month. The company is also backed by an unspecified amount of venture capital.

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7 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

The Bunker draws two 11,000-volt supplies directly from the National Grid, requiring the use of this underground substation. There's also a shared, secondary supply from the National Grid in case the first connection goes down.

On request, systems can be replicated in seconds to a slave datacentre built under the former US Air Force base at Greenham Common near Newbury, Berkshire. With replication, The Bunker offers an uptime guarantee of 99.5 percent.

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8 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

Should both the National Grid connections fail, these two generators sited on top of the datacentre will kick in. The generators are capable of supplying 1MW of power. Five diesel tanks, large enough to hold 300,000 litres of fuel, are stored in a purpose-built extension to The Bunker, to keep the datacentre up and running.

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9 of 9 Richard Thurston/ZDNET

While ZDNet.co.uk was in the datacentre, security guards were tracking every move, through The Bunker's network of CCTV cameras. Each camera records the last movement as a thumbnail, providing a real-time record of everywhere our reporter went.

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