The Other Half Of The Security Equation (Part 1)

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Physical security considerations for the data center

APPROPRIATELY so, companies pour a great deal of attention, resources, and money into software solutions covering Internet, network, application, virtualization, cloud service, and other security concerns. Software security is only half the battle when it comes to securing the data center data, however. Implementing and maintaining physical security measures are also vital and arguably every bit as important. As industry experts point out, an intruder who is able to tamper with or even remove a server full of data can effectively cripple the company.

Software security is only half the battle when it comes to securing the data center data, however

Software security is only half the battle when it comes to securing the data center data, however

Throwing technology at the problem isn’t enough, though. As Jenna Maertz, research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group (, says, “Technology fails. Embrace this mantra when designing your security strategy. You can have the newest and shiniest technology in place, and a security breach can still occur. Have a backup plan, and a backup plan for your backup plan.” To that end, the following explores various aspects of physical data center security to consider.

View everything as a whole

Assessing a data center’s physical components (entryways, access points, surveillance, etc.) to pinpoint where weaknesses reside is vital, but so is considering the data center as a whole. This means assessing physical security and employee access, Maertz says. “Your security strategy needs to take into account more than just the physical.”

This strategy applies to businesses of all sizes, says Derek Brink, vice president and research fellow with Aberdeen Group ( A holistic risk assessment should encompass logical and physical security and personnel safety, he says. “Most companies have implemented physical access control systems – for example, proximity based card systems and just as there are policies for who should have logical access to data center resources, there should be policies for who should have physical access,” Brink says. Review these policies periodically, he says, to prevent “inappropriate accumulations of access privileges as roles change over time and ‘orphan’ access privileges remain open, even after someone has changed roles or left the company, and so on.”

Your security strategy needs to take into account more than just the physical

Your security strategy needs to take into account more than just the physical

Traditionally, physical and logical access control systems have been separate and independently managed, Brink says. Research, though, indicates there are a few specific points of convergence. “One is the use of a common access credential – typically a card form factor for both logical and physical access,” he says. These deployments are most prevalent in government-oriented deployments based on the HSPD-12 [Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12] requirements and the PIV [Personal Identity Verification] standard but also adopted by enterprises, he says.

Another convergence point is the aggregation and correlation of information and events in the back end to correlate physical events (such as walking in to the data center) with logical events (such as logging in to the servers) and raise a red flag when anomalies surface, he says. A third convergence point is the increasing use of standard Internet-based net-working (as opposed to non-standard, proprietary networking) for physical security solutions, such as video surveillance and video analytics, “which again provides an opportunity for unification of policies and aggregation and correlation of information and events,” Brink says.

Protect in layers

The security strategy commonly cited for physically protecting data centers is establishing multiple or concentric security layers starting from the point at which someone enters the property and tracking through to the cabinet and rack level, with some form of alarm or monitoring system (access cards, video cameras, guard stations, etc.) present at each layer. The following are components of this strategy.

Exterior. The first line of defense starts at the facility’s exterior and includes evaluating how landscaping (trees, vegetation, boulders, ditches, etc.) can both provide protection from intruders and help intruders conceal themselves. Securing the exterior can also involve installing fencing and controlled parking; ensuring that door hinges face in-ward; using tinted, shatter-resistant windows and ballistic-grade material for every entryway; and placing surveillance cameras around the perimeter.

Entryways. Beyond limiting the number of entryways into the facility (something that also reduces security-related costs), establishing one main point of entry where monitoring and personnel verification takes place is recommended. Loading and delivery areas should also feature controlled access, and ire doors should open from the inside only.

Loading and delivery areas should also feature controlled access

Loading and delivery areas should also feature controlled access

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