December 2016

White Paper: The Data Center for the 21st century
 

Needless to say, this is something you take very seriously. But are you really doing well in this area? To be certain of this, you need to know what the highest standards currently are in the world of data centers.

This white paper contains information on the highest standards and best practices for protecting your company's data. The terms 'data center' and 'server room' are used interchangeably in this document. Although data centers are usually larger and include more specific facilities, server rooms are equally important when it comes to ensuring the continuity of your business.

Access control system
Your company data includes a great deal of highly sensitive information on your products, clients and employees. The recent emergence of ransomware illustrates why you need to do everything you can to ensure your data does not fall into the wrong hands. This starts with the physical security of your data center. If anyone can walk in to your data center, you are taking irresponsible risks.

The best way to ensure secure access to the server room, is through the use of personalized codes. A personalized code can be assigned automatically by scanning an identity document and checking the access rights of the individual in question. Professional data centers are surrounded by electric fencing, and access control is achieved through the use of mantraps, which can be fitted with sensors to prevent a second person, who has not been authorized, from entering the data center at the same time.

Data centers can be divided up into segments, and access control can be used to allow selective access to each segment. It is also possible to record which client room has been entered, to discourage misuse by authorized persons.

Fire
A server room can be equipped with fire extinguishing technology that does not damage the servers and is not harmful to people in the server room. A commonly used extinguishing agent is Argonite. This blend of argon gas and nitrogen gas reduces the concentration of oxygen within one minute, to the point point at which fire can no longer burn, giving people time to vacate the room. Today's new data centers make use of Novec 1230, which is better for the environment and causes fewer breathing problems for people who come into contact with it. It works by reducing the temperatures of the seat (origin) of the fire at a molecular level, which extinguishes the fire.

Lightning
A lightning conductor protects the building and its cooling and back-up installations against a direct lightning strike and against power cuts caused by lightning.

Power outages
A data center has to have a dual mains supply in order to be Tier 3 certified. Tier 4 certification requires that mains supplies are provided by two different electrical grid operators, which is not possible in Belgium. All components in the power supply or backup installation are duplicated to ensure that a failure in one of the components does not prevent the servers from operating normally.

A UPS (uninterruptible power supply) guarantees the electricity supply. If the mains supply is interrupted, the UPS batteries automatically take over. Diesel generators start working less than a minute after the power outage began. Preheating the fuel enables the generators to start operating immediately. Fuel stocks are sufficient to cope with a power outage lasting several weeks. The UPSs should have an autonomy of at least 30 minutes, in case the diesel generators fail to start automatically. If that happens, there needs to be someone on site to start the generators manually. Therefore, a staff member should be on duty at all times.

However, none of this is of any value if the facilities are not tested regularly. The only way to be sure that you are properly protected is to switch off the electricity supply and test whether your backup installations take over. If you never turn the power off, you cannot be properly protected! Do you want to wait for a power outage to find out whether everything works?

Air conditioning
Modern servers are able to operate perfectly at temperatures of 20-25 degrees Celsius. However, ensuring a constant temperature is still essential, in order to prevent electronic components from expanding and contracting. This means that while air conditioning is crucial, data centers no longer need to be cold places. Cold aisles contribute to efficient air conditioning. Using cold aisles basically means supplying cool air precisely where it is needed, i.e. in front of the racks in which servers are mounted. The racks are arranged in an aisle where the air supply is kept separate from the rest of the room. The cold airflow is supplied through a raised floor, primarily via perforated tiles.

It is also important to ensure that the air supply has the right level of humidity, in order to protect sensitive server components. The level of humidity needs to be between 20% and 80%. If it is above 80%, server components may become corroded. A level of 20% or lower means the air supply is too dry, and static electricity may cause damage.

All components of the air conditioning system are duplicated, in the same way as the power supply. As a result, the temperature in the data center is unaffected if one of the components fails.

Leak detection
In addition, moisture monitoring sensors can be installed in the floor. These sensors are able to detect even the smallest leak in the air conditioning system immediately.

Redundancy
All critical components are duplicated: there are at least two systems that can operate independently of each other. This is true for all components of the air conditioning, power supply and backup systems.

Energy efficiency
Data centers and server rooms account for 2% of the global electricity consumption, mostly on account of the energy-intensive cooling systems they use. That is why all self-respecting data centers constantly look for ways to improve their energy efficiency, enabling them to cut their electricity bills significantly. Obviously, using just one large data center is more energy efficient than using many smaller data centers or server rooms. Global electricity consumption would drop if everyone stored all their data in data centers.

Connectivity
Carrier-neutral data centers are connected to a large number of telecom operators. This means that customers can easily switch operators or make use of several international operators. A similar situation applies with regard to access to cloud providers, for private, public or hybrid cloud solutions.

A direct connection to the internet backbone (the principle data routes) allows data to be sent and received over long distances within a few milliseconds.

The cabling in a data center is efficient, well-structured and easily accessible. Telecom operators, cloud providers and the organizations that want to use their services are connected in specially equipped rooms, known as meet-me-rooms, enabling rapid connections. Clearly, it would be impossible for a company to achieve the same level of connectivity as a specialized data center.

Accessibility
A data center can be accessed 24/7. It employs specialized staff and constantly monitors whether there are any problems.

This concludes our rundown of the key features of 21st century data centers. If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to take a look for yourself, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help you evaluate the current state of your server room or data center, and determine whether you really are well-protected.