Going to Extremes for Data Security

Should you worry less or more if your business takes its data to the cloud? That depends on the infrastructure of the data center “cloud” in question. We can learn a lot about how to do it right from Minkels and Deltalis, whose special project is a finalist for the DatacenterDynamics Awards 2012 category “Most Extreme Datacenter Deployment.”

If you’ve never heard of the DatacenterDynamics Awards, don’t feel too bad; they seem to be little known outside the datacenter industry, though within it they carry the cachet of the Oscars. Now in their sixth year, the award ceremony will be held on December 13 at the Lancaster London Hotel. Six hundred industry attendees are expected for this black tie gala affair that recognizes “innovation, leadership and ‘out of the box’ thinking in the data center industry across the EMEA region,” according to DatacenterDynamics’s website.

So what did Minkels do that was so “outside the box” in creating a data center to merit finalist status? Its Deltalis data center is built inside a mountain in the Swiss Alps, within a former military bunker that used to house the Command and Control center for the Swiss Air Force. This location, and the modifications made to it by Minkels, solves many of the challenges a data center used for cloud computing must face.

Consider the kind of energy consumed by computer equipment that must be on all the time, just for cooling. The cave-like environment maintains a cool temperature, and the mountain offers abundant glacier water to assist with cooling. Not surprisingly, its energy comes from hydro-electric power, which makes the facility carbon neutral. In this case, going green can help to keep energy costs down. It’s worth asking the cloud computing business your company may want to use about their energy usage, not just for environmental purposes, but to determine the security of their power supply. What’s the likelihood of an outage, and how will they handle it?

Being deeply buried in an ex-military bunker also offers protection from many natural disasters. That’s a significant issue for data centers in many other locations – and it’s also why it’s never a good idea to maintain a single copy of your company’s data. If the copy at the data center in Florida gets hit by a hurricane, the one at the data center in California is safe – and likewise, if the data center in California gets hit by an earthquake, the one in New York is safe. Ask how your cloud computing company handles appropriate redundancy and load balancing, so you know you can always get to your data.

Speaking of redundancy, load balancing, and access to data, the Deltalis datacenter isn’t quite as inaccessible as it appears. According to the factsheet, it’s not too far from Zurich, well connected by road and rail, so employees should have no problem getting to the center even if something should go wrong in off hours. (As you would expect, though, it appears to be manned 24/7/365). Deltalis also offers a very fast data connection because it boasts “direct access to a main European Internet backbone” and “access to the main north-south high-speed fiber Internet route through Switzerland.” It’s worth asking about your cloud computing company’s connections to the Internet – both their speed and their security.

In some datacenters, space can also be an issue. The Deltalis datacenter features several multi-story buildings built into its granite, with vaulted ceilings in separate rooms. The initial data center takes up 600 square meters, with plenty of room to grow: 8,000 square meters of reserve, in fact. The extra rooms and space allowed Minkels to install backup energy supplies: diesel generators in separate rooms, redundant heat pumps, UPS batteries and switch boards in separate rooms, etc. When choosing a company to handle your mission-critical data in its cloud, it’s wise to ask about the size of their space and how they use it. Divided space can work well to protect computers in case of fire – of course, an up-to-date fire prevention system is a must.

We’ve discussed security from fire and natural disasters, but perhaps one of the biggest concerns on any system administrator’s mind is hackers. Deltalis seems as digitally secure as it is physically secure. Its factsheet describes the system: “Integrated access control system, separation system, biometric readers, RFID access with access list, wireless people tracking throughout the facility, IP video cameras…Highly modern faciltiy with high quality equipment using premium brand products from first class manufacturers…Highest safety standards, availability levels up to Tier IV already implemented…Experienced operations team, which has overseen the facility for decades.” Don’t be afraid to ask any cloud computing company with which your firm does business for details as to how they secure their systems against malware, distributed denial of service attacks, phishing attacks, and hackers in general – and what procedures they use should they fall victim to one of these. It’s your data, and if it truly is mission-critical, you want to make sure it’s in the best possible hands.

To what lengths would you go to make sure your company’s data is secure? Feel free to respond in the comments. 

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