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Nice Data Center, Shame To See Something Happen To It: How To Keep Intruders Out


Data center operators might work in the cloud, but increasingly, their focus is at ground level, where they are on the alert for new security threats and ways to harden their defenses.

Strengthening security was the No. 1 concern raised in a recent survey of more than 700 IT professionals, ahead of reducing costs and improving network architecture. Service Express reported that data centers are “grappling with effective ways to support security both on-premises and within cloud services.”

It isn't only a hacker’s malicious coding that data center operators need to worry about. Data centers must also guard against threats from vandals and domestic terrorists who want to break into their physical properties. Against those threats, facilities that depend on chain-link or construction-site fencing could be leaving their operations at serious risk.

“Data centers have evolved from being open campuses that anybody could walk onto to having secured perimeters,” said Brandy Byrd, a data center security expert for Ameristar Perimeter Security. “But while certain standards in security have come to be accepted, we are starting to see they aren't good enough.”

To effectively deter a perimeter breach, a barrier must be difficult to either climb over, cut through with tools or ram with a vehicle. The barrier should also serve as a tool to increase the confidence level of employees and visiting clients. 

Byrd cited a 2021 case where the FBI arrested a would-be domestic terrorist who was plotting to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia. In a situation like that, a conventional fence would provide little protection against a determined intruder.

Amy Dunton, an Ameristar data center security expert, said customers are demanding improved perimeter security. Some, such as the federal government, even have their own requirements for crash ratings and other specifications.

“There has been a realization among customers that these centers have all of their data and need to do a better job of protecting it from threats with things like a strong perimeter fence, intrusion detection technology and access controls,” Dunton said.

In the unlikely event that a data center isn't yet feeling pressure from customers to improve security, some operators soon might not have a choice. Dunton said that proposed legislation at the federal level may soon treat all data centers as critical infrastructure sites.  

The mere discussion of federal oversight like that is enough to motivate data center operators to be proactive, she said. 

“This legislation, coupled with a big increase in federal customers, is definitely prompting a lot of people to look at their security and to change things,” Dunton said. “We are starting to see colocation companies be proactive, and their security and construction teams are working together to provide the best crash-rated perimeter security for data center clients.”

If a pair of bolt cutters — or even toenail clippers, Byrd said — are enough to breach many standard fences, how can these facilities keep intruders out?

“We recommend what is called a palisade fence,” Byrd said. “This is up to 10 feet tall and made of roll-formed steel, so you don't have any hollow or weak points in it. I've seen people break into sites a thousand different ways using things like carjacks to make openings in fences, but palisade fences are made to be a lot stronger than that. They're anti-climb, too, and can serve as a platform to hang other security peripherals like cameras.”

Some variations of palisade barriers are tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials to withstand the impact of a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling at 50 mph.

Ameristar also offers a rapidly deployable security fence — a type of product that had been a bit of an oxymoron in the security industry, Byrd said. However, she said, the limits of conventional temporary fencing were made painfully obvious when a mob easily breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, even using the fencing as weapons against law enforcement.

Byrd said that wouldn't be possible with Ameristar’s new GridLock barriers, which can be installed quickly and secured by anchors either into concrete or soil. Applications range from providing security at crowded events to adding an extra layer of protection for critical data center infrastructure.

“It always seemed strange that there wasn't anything on the market like this,” Byrd said. “But people didn't seem to feel a sense of urgency until recently because tragedy creates urgency.”

Security may be top of mind for data center operators, but as the Service Express survey found, cost containment remains another priority. To help its clients choose the correct barrier for their needs, Ameristar uses a risk formula that considers the probability of an intrusion event, the vulnerability of the property and the consequences of a breach.

“When we’re in conversations with data center security teams, we talk about the real costs of intrusion,” Dunton said. “These include the cost of having to shut down a site because of a break-in and who is responsible for the cost of that lost data. Clients are realizing they need something better than chain-link.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Ameristar Perimeter Security and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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