Every quarter fellow data center security personnel from across the industry, as well as members of the law enforcement community, gather to talk about new and emerging technologies and best-practices - and it’s hosted by Edward Ankers, Vice President of Corporate Security. These discussions "raise all boats" security-wise, so that data center teams everywhere are more prepared to meet security challenges—today and in the future.
The quarterly discussions began in 2012 when we invited colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security to tour one of our facilities. They had no idea about the level of security sophistication found in data centers, and realized that there was much to share and learn from each other. Colleagues at other data centers also saw the value in sharing and learning from each other, and the quarterly conversations grew.
Today, each quarterly discussion is a chance to connect with colleagues, swap ideas, and see cutting-edge security technology in action. Here are four recent trends and technologies the industry is keeping an eye on:
Autonomous Drones & Robotics
Drones and robots have been around for some time now. That said, they are getting more and more sophisticated and autonomous every day. Some types of drones can hover for extended periods while robots equipped with multiple cameras can patrol halls when security teams can't. These technologies make 24/7 observation of an entire facility easier and more cost-effective by reducing the reliance on human security personnel as well as any potential human-error.
Autonomous security drones can patrol pre-programmed routes, or fly "missions" on-demand. They can observe the data center from a bird's eye view using "machine vision" to auto-detect humans and cars day or night—with the option of switching between normal views or thermal, night-time views, depending on conditions.
Autonomous security robots can patrol the ground in much the same way. In addition to cameras, they can also include badge readers, mobile PA systems and alarms, touch-screens and more. A single robot can potentially function as a security kiosk, mobile camera platform, information center and communication tool.
Over time, these drones and robots can also learn "normal" comings-and-goings of the facility in order to detect any abnormalities—like a potential intruder or even gas leaks and other potential problems. If the drone or robot detects an aberration, it can alert human security personnel who can either re-route the unit for closer inspection or dispatch a team to investigate.
Like drones, biometric technology is improving all the time. Touchless biometrics, like face or iris scanners, are exciting areas of biometric development. Security teams must always wrestle with how to best balance convenience and access with the safety of people, facilities and the assets held within.
Essentially, the best kind of security works in the background. Biometrics erase the issue of easily lost or misplaced key cards or fobs - you are quite literally your own key. Touchless biometrics, in particular, enable trusted individuals easy access to the facilities without sacrificing security, convenience or even public health.
The latter is especially important in light of the precautions undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doors, elevator buttons and vending machines can all be vectors for infection. Touch-based biometrics, without proper sanitation, are no different. Touchless technology, on the other hand (no pun intended), can reduce employees' or guests' exposure to germs, microbes, viruses or other potentially harmful organisms. That means healthier people and healthier communities.
At any given data center facility, you'll likely find hundreds of pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) security cameras in operation. However, the sheer number of cameras necessary for complete coverage make them a costly, but necessary, part of data center security. There's the cost of the actual hardware for each camera, but storing and processing the footage also eats up significant resources.
Ground-based radar has a 180-degree vantage—day and night. Radar reduces the need for complete PTZ camera coverage, because if it detects an anomaly, it can direct the appropriate camera to the source of the disturbance—meaning fewer cameras (and fewer resources dedicated to them).
One other significant advantage of modern ground-based radar for data center security is its ability to separate actual potential threats from the chaff of normal, harmless activities. A system that raises an alarm anytime a leaf blows by is not a workable system. However, artificial intelligence and sophisticated algorithms can tell the difference between an intruder or other threat and an innocent, passing pedestrian or wildlife caught in the radar's view.
In case of emergency
Learning about new technology is often a major highlight at each meeting, but they also serve a less tangible purpose. They're opportunities to connect with colleagues across the industry as well as with law enforcement and first-responders—something especially important in highly sensitive markets like Northern Virginia. The meetings help everyone involved speak the same language so that it's easier to communicate and coordinate in the event of emergencies or crises that affect every provider.
Case in point: data center security personnel from across the industry were able to coordinate and adapt quickly when the pandemic started to ramp up. We were able to share best-practices, processes, equipment, and—sometimes—massive, 500 gallon drums of hand sanitizer—in order to keep data center clients and staff as safe and secure as possible.
One for all
From the outset, these quarterly meetings had one goal: encouraging communication and information exchange within the industry. Security is something that isn't just important to one provider, it's critical to all of us. It's in everyone's best interest to ensure that data centers everywhere are as safe and secure as possible, and ready to confront any challenge.