Choosing a data center is one of the most important decisions that any CIO has to make. There are literally dozens of points to take into consideration, from the size and future scalability of the center to its actual physical location and the potential impact on latency. That’s not even getting into issues regarding network security and keeping the hackers and other cybercriminals from infiltrating and wreaking havoc on your business from the inside.

Yet one important point that’s often overlooked when choosing a data center — and could prove costly in the long run — is the actual physical security of the center. It seems that many businesses simply assume that the data center is secure, or that because the front door is locked, their servers will be safe. While controlled access is certainly important, it’s only part of the physical security picture. To keep your servers and data safe, you need to analyze all aspects of a data center’s protection plans.

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Start at the Beginning: Where Is the Data Center Located?

Pretend for a moment that you are a hacker. What’s more attractive than a large data center, just sitting there processing millions of bytes of data every day? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just walk right in, and with a few taps of the mouse, collect all the data that you ever dreamed of?

While this is a (major) oversimplification of the process of stealing data from a data center, a business that is serious about protecting their data needs to consider the possibility of theft from the outside as well as being hacked. And while you might think that your business is too small or insignificant to be of any interest to a hacker, consider that it might also be home to dozens of other businesses, including major companies or those who handle large amounts of sensitive data, including intellectual property.

Yet it’s not just hackers that are a concern. Other businesses or buildings in the area could be targets for violence or prone to accidents that could affect your data center’s functioning, and by extension, your business. Severe weather is also a concern. For example, if the data center is located within a hurricane zone, the center could be destroyed, damaged, or experience service interruptions during a storm. For that reason, experts recommend choosing a data center that is easily accessible, but not in a busy or necessarily central location. That means avoiding centers located within hurricane or flood prone areas, and away from major airports, power plants, or chemical facilities.

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Who Has the Power?

Data centers require a significant amount of energy to operate — and often, the energy cost savings is a huge driver in choosing to move to a data center instead of keeping servers in-house. Yet energy is actually a major concern when it comes to physical security, because if the power is disrupted, so are operations, not to mention the potential damage to equipment.

Ideally, your data center should have a source of backup power available 24/7 in the event of an emergency, as well as continuous environmental monitoring systems to ensure that temperature and humidity are at optimum levels, in addition to monitoring for fire and other problems. However, you should also do some research into the availability of power in the region where your data center is located. Some regions are “running out of juice” so to speak and may not be able to accommodate a lot of expansion over the long term. Consider your plans and how much power is available before you make a decision.

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The Human Factor


Of course, no discussion of physical security would be complete without addressing the human factor. Two-factor authentication involving biometrics is becoming the standard for many data centers, and should be on the list of requirements for yours.

Avoid data centers that contract with outside security teams, especially temporary staff. A permanent security staff that is employed by the data center is better prepared to identify anomalies due to familiarity, and it’s less likely that a criminal will be able to impersonate security in order to gain access.

Other security measures that you should look for include limited entry and exit points, doors that only allow one person through at a time — and require inputting security credentials more than once — and continuous monitoring via video.

Some of the additional security measures that experts recommend including limiting the number of windows in the data center (which also helps with cooling) and avoiding exterior signage or other indicators that the building houses a data center. When you consider all of these little things together, you’re more likely to find a secure data center, and have peace of mind that your important data is safe and secure.