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Evolving data centre security

Data security
Image: Adobe Stock / Michael Traitov

The global data centre market is booming and expected to reach $174 billion by 2023, according to the intelligence and advisory firm Arizton.

One of the main factors is that organisations are rethinking their infrastructure. A decade ago, organisations met their data storage needs by building their own centres. Now, many are realising that getting their on-premises facilities up to current standards could cost millions.

Colocation data centres are a viable alternative that offer up-to-date infrastructure at a lower cost compared to keeping everything “in-house.” They frequently lease space to multiple organisations, which means these organisations can access the benefits of sharing resources and outsourcing support. Organisations choose colocation facilities to benefit from their maintenance programmes, cooling capabilities, physical security infrastructure, as well as up-time and monitoring guarantees.

Increasing challenges in protecting customer data

Initially, colocation data centres deployed multiple independent physical security solutions to secure their facilities. As these systems have aged, this siloed approach has made it more difficult for data centres to protect customer data, comply with the growing number of regulatory frameworks, and address increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Protecting customer data is the top priority for any data centre. Unfortunately, working with siloed video surveillance and access control systems (ACS) can slow down response times, because they require operators to move between applications to piece together important information.

Isolated systems also make it more difficult to automate alarms, leaving data centres to rely on security personnel to actively monitor inputs and identify specific security threats. But security teams can quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of information coming in. This can lead to increased system and data vulnerability as important information gets lost, ignored, or overlooked.

The age of these systems can also make it hard for data centres to accommodate new integrations or expansions. When technologies such as intercom and licence plate recognition cannot be integrated into existing systems, facilities lose the opportunity to enhance site security.

Keeping up with new and evolving regulatory frameworks

Data centres must be equipped to store and secure data for hundreds of companies from a variety of industries, all at the same time. This means that the centres must be able to comply with an array of industry standards. For example, a single data centre could have to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the ISO 27001 information security standard, and the Service Organization Control (SOC) and SOC2 standards.

Complying with these standards requires careful consideration of how physical security systems are configured and managed. Article 15 of the GDPR, for example, states both that any member of the public can file a data subject request to obtain CCTV footage and that the right to obtain a copy shall not adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others.

This can present a logistical challenge for a data centre that is unable to integrate software that automatically redacts faces in video footage. While an organisation can try to manually redact faces in every frame of requested video, the process is difficult and time consuming.

Growing concerns with how to mitigate cyberattacks

As centralised repositories of sensitive data, data centres represent an attractive target for cybercriminals. In the most sophisticated and targeted attacks, they will probe for weaknesses in both the virtual and physical perimeter until they discover a vulnerable link that allows them to gain access while remaining undetected. This then allows them to acquire sensitive data over an extended period of time.

Consequently, as data centres grow to meet increased demands and changing needs, it is important to phase our outdated or poorly maintained devices and systems. 

How can data centres grow successfully?

Colocation data centres can do three things to combat growing pains and ensure they continue to meet their customers’ needs:

  1. Deploy a scalable, unified security platform

A unified security platform can improve response times, streamline visitor management, and increase site security. By investing in a scalable unified platform, data centres can simplify and accelerate investigations. For example, when using multiple systems, security personnel have to pull up maps and blueprints to see which cameras are associated with what door.

But a unified system with a map-based interface allows personnel to quickly find doors and nearby cameras and get a complete view of a scene. Because personnel have everything they need in one interface, their response times are faster and they can address events and incidents with greater understanding.

When using a unified platform data centres can also modernise visitor management processes. By implementing a physical identity and access management module, they can automate visitor requests while keeping detailed audit trails of visits. This allows data centre customers to determine where and when their technicians or vendors can go without requiring any intervention from data centre personnel, which both reduces workload and ensures better control over facility access.

In addition, a unified platform can streamline compliance operations by making it easier to set expiry times for contractor passes and by automating report sharing. A unified platform, together with a visitor management module, can allow data centres to customise reports and save them for future auditing, making running a report as easy as pressing a button.

  • Take a layered approach

Data centres have multiple overlapping perimeters, each with their own rights of access, risk profile, and operational requirements. This includes specific partitions that must be maintained when it comes to individual customers’ hardware and data. Data centres must dynamically control access to specific halls, rooms, and even cabinets.

As a result, relying on one sensor or analytic to detect intrusions is inefficient and can lead to increased vulnerability. Instead, a layered approach to perimeter security is required that can include the likes of video surveillance, number plate recognition, LiDAR, fencing and more to prevent unwanted incursions.

Organisations should also ensure they are not overly reliant on security operators to actively monitor input from sensors to identify threats. Automated alerts, in conjunction with a structured process that guides operators step-by-step in how to respond, can help ensure that possible threats are identified, investigated, and resolved in a timely and consistent manner.

  • Ensure physical security systems are cyber secure

Security cameras, access control readers, and alarm panels are IoT devices that run software that could be exploited by attackers. Simply ensuring that these devices are running on the latest firmware and that they aren’t using default passwords can eliminate many of the risks associated with device vulnerability.

Given their growing list of responsibilities, updating core business systems and devices is not always top of mind for security personnel. By shifting this burden away from employees, companies like Genetec are helping data centres reduce the risk of cyberattacks. Automatically managing firmware and passwords, for example, allows data centres to build resilient cyber and physical security frameworks to run their operations.


Data centres must keep up with evolving regulations and security threats while ensuring that their customers’ needs are always met. Upgrading to a unified security platform is the ground that enables colocation data centres to grow effectively and continue providing the services their customers want today and in the future.

Picture of Nick Smith
Nick Smith
Business Development Manager, Genetec

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