From perimeter to rack: Unpacking the five layers of data centre protection

From perimeter to rack: Unpacking the five layers of data centre protection

Data centres have targets on their back. Threat actors are incessant on infiltrating where they can, which is why the infrastructure ecosystem must be secure both inside and out, says Sienna Cacan, Global Enterprise Segment Marketing Manager at Axis Communications. She shares the multifaceted approach operators should acknowledge for a comprehensive security strategy.

With information at the heart of everyday life and modern business, data centres play a critical role in providing the infrastructure required to host, store, process and protect data. Cloud services, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence have driven growth and demand for data centres in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.

At the end of 2023, the UAE had 235MW of data centre capacity with plans to expand capacity by 343MW. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia wants to add 467MW of capacity over the next few years.

Due to their high value, data centre sites are treated as critical infrastructure and, therefore, carry a threat level that demands an informed and comprehensive security strategy. Protecting data centres needs more than a CCTV camera system hooked up to a monitor in a back room. From the perimeter fence of a site to the individual server racks, operators need to take a layered approach to security and surveillance.

Layer 1: Outside the barriers

Site security does not start at the front gate. Instead, site security starts a good distance from it. Detecting, verifying and deterring any unwanted visitors or activities taking place in proximity to the property is the first step in executing a comprehensive security strategy. Using a combination of visual and thermal cameras, radar technology and drone detection, facility operators can wield a bird’s eye view of the area that surrounds the facility.

As local governments and institutions leverage drones for different use cases – as demonstrated in Saudi Arabia, where the technology will be used to monitor routes to holy sites during this year’s Hajj  – so too can threat actors use that technology to carry out acts of espionage and sabotage. Aerial incursions can be just as big a threat as ones on the ground, so operators need to take all steps to minimise blind spots and increase their field of vision.

Layer 2: Inside the barriers

Moving from the outside to the inside, operators face the challenge of tracking all authorised movement throughout the site. With radar covering the entire perimeter of the facility, operators can then take a closer look at unexpected activity or incidents using pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras that can focus on a specific area.

Upon identification, sensors can automatically trigger live or pre-recorded audio as well as assign security personnel or emergency services. Given the IoT-enabled design of these solutions, operators can also track figures or vehicles as they move around the premises. Data centre facilities can occupy huge pieces of land, so a network surveillance solution is critical for operators, either on-site or remote, to view and effectively monitor the premises without requiring additional security patrols or personnel.

Layer 3: The buildings

Serving as the gatekeepers to any structure, access solutions such as door stations and controllers leverage credentials-based controls to provide access to pre-authorised people and vehicles. Credential types can range from cards, PINs and QR codes, to biometrics such as facial and iris recognition (subject to local regulatory restrictions regarding personal data privacy), or a combination of two or more. Number plate scanners also serve to confirm authorised vehicles moving in and out of loading bays and parking lots.

Many access control solutions deploy Multi-Factor Authentication to reinforce identity confirmation, and operators can also use two-way communication to directly interact with personnel and authorised visitors.

Body-worn solutions can be used to add a further layer of security on building access points and be a powerful tool for perimeter patrols. Operators can see, hear and record everything the wearer does, as well as ensure that behavioural standards and response procedures are adhered to.

Layer 4: The server room

Surveillance monitoring and access control do not end at the door to the server room. Using multi-directional cameras equipped with motion sensors, operators can immediately be alerted to and track any movement within the space.

The deployment of motion sensors means operators do not need to spend additional time and resources keeping an eye on empty rooms, as the cameras only need to be activated once movement has been detected.

Layer 5: The data itself

Modular and multi-directional cameras equipped for wireless I/O connectivity offer operators an up-close look at the server racks, while fingerprint and QR code scanners mounted on all doors ensure access by authorised personnel only.

Cameras can also be leveraged in some data centre monitoring roles in place of other hardware. For example, infrared cameras can be used to detect smoke or gas leaks, while others can be used to detect leaking water from HVAC and cooling apparatus. Operators can then integrate these systems and the data they generate with their Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions, along with other systems that form part of the greater surveillance and site monitoring strategy.

Cybersecurity, sustainability and a new possibility

Given that data centres are likely targets of cyberattacks, operators need to ensure their security and surveillance are equally as secure as the data and applications they’re hosting. Ideally, all solutions must support Zero Trust principles – a framework wherein every user and software connection is verified and authorised according to conditional requirements of an organisation’s security policies – as well as make extended use of data encryption, IP address filtering and signed firmware.

At the same time, protection solutions can positively contribute to data centres’ sustainability initiatives. By investing in environmentally friendly security products, offering low energy usage levels and being from trusted suppliers, operators can work to fulfil their corporate social responsibilities and outfit their facilities to be beacons of sustainability for the greater industry.

This is the promise of data centre protection. It’s not just about protection, but a holistic way to design and deploy a security ecosystem that benefits the enterprise, its clients, the industry and the world. With the help of tried and tested technologies, as well as trusted manufacturers and integrators, data centres in the Middle East can lead the way in an information-powered world.

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