Thursday, November 24, 2011

Buildings house secret servers that keep Net humming. Not every data center is a fortress..

CHICAGO – From the outside, the Gothic brick and limestone building a few blocks south of downtown almost looks abandoned.

Plaques identify it as a landmark completed in 1929, a former printing plant that once produced magazines, catalogs and phone books. The sign over the main door says "Chicago Manufacturing Division Plant 1."

There are hints, though, that something is going on inside. Cameras are aimed at the building's perimeter. A small sign at the back entrance says "Digital Realty Trust."

Sturdy gates across the driveway keep the uninvited out.

There's good reason for the intentional anonymity and security, says Rich Miller: "The Internet lives there."

Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, which tracks the industry, and Dave Caron, senior vice president of portfolio management for Digital Realty, which owns the 1.1 million-square-foot former R.R. Donnelley printing plant, say it is the world's largest repository for computer servers.

Caron won't identify its tenants, but he says the building stores data from financial firms and Internet and telecommunications companies. "The 'cloud' that you keep hearing about … all ends up on servers in a data center somewhere," he says.

There are about 13,000 large data centers around the world, 7,000 of them in the USA, says Michelle Bailey, a vice president at IDC, a market research company that monitors the industry. Growth stalled during the recession, but her company estimates about $22 billion will be spent on new centers worldwide this year.

The need for data centers is increasing as demand for online space and connectivity explodes. Some are inside generic urban buildings or sprawling rural facilities. For all of them, security is paramount. Inside, after all, are the engines that keep smartphones smart, businesses connected and social networks humming.

Some data centers have "traps" that isolate intrusions by unauthorized individuals, technology that weighs people as they enter and sounds an alarm if their weight is different when they depart, bulletproof walls and blast-proof doors, Bailey says.

When Wal-Mart opened a data center in McDonald County, Mo., a few years ago, County Assessor Laura Pope says she signed a non-disclosure agreement promising "I wouldn't discuss anything I saw in there." She hasn't.

Borrowing a line from a 1999 movie, Miller says, "I used to kid about the Fight Club rule: Rule No. 1 is you don't talk about the data centers, and Rule No. 2 is you do not talk about the data centers."

Although the rapid growth of data centers has diminished their ability to "hide in plain sight," he says, many owners and occupants are "very secretive and … sensitive about the locations."

That makes sense, Miller says. "These facilities are critical to the financial system and the overall function of the Internet."

Making new use of the old

Some data centers — sometimes called carrier hotels because space is leased to multiple companies — are in large urban buildings where they can tap into intersecting networks, Miller says

Old manufacturing facilities such as Chicago's Donnelley printing plant often are repurposed because they have high ceilings and load-bearing floors to support heavy racks of servers.

"They are interesting examples of the new economy rising up in the footprints of the old," he says.

Giant companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Amazon often build their data centers in rural areas. "They're looking for cheap power and cheap real estate," Miller says. While the number of private centers grows, the federal government is consolidating. It has more than 2,000 data centers and this summer announced plans to close 373 by the end of 2012.

Communities such as Quincy, Wash., population 6,750, and Catawba County in western North Carolina want to become data center hubs. Catawba and neighboring counties dubbed themselves "North Carolina's data center corridor," says Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp.

Apple last fall opened a 500,000-square-foot, $1 billion facility in Catawba County. Google and Facebook have data centers in nearby counties and more are under construction.

Catawba County is building a second data center park in hopes of attracting more, Millar says. Because data centers don't require many employees, most of the permanent jobs are created by contractors who provide electrical, cooling or security support, he says. About 400 people work at the giant Chicago data center; many employ far fewer.

The Apple data center, Millar says, is "pretty secretive." No signs indicate what the building holds, he says, "but everybody knows what it is."

James Lewis, a senior fellow in technology and security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy research group in Washington, D.C., compares the evolution of data centers to changes in the way electricity is generated.

A century or more ago, he says, factories and other companies operated their own electric plants to power their lights, elevators and other functions. Those with spare capacity began to sell it to their neighbors. "That's what happened to computing," Lewis says.

Instead of maintaining computer servers in their own facilities for rapidly growing data storage needs, some businesses locate their servers or backup servers in data centers, he says. They can save money because the centers minimize energy consumption, ensure security and allow computers to share tasks. Data centers also give companies places to store backed-up data that is crucial to their businesses.

"The amount of data in the world doubles every couple of years and people … are willing to pay for it to be stored," Lewis says.

He doesn't think it's essential to conceal the centers' locations, though, because hackers won't try to come in through the front door. "The main source of risk isn't physical, it's cyber," he says. "If hiding the location … is all that they're doing, they're not doing enough."

Tall building, low profile

Keeping a low profile is just the beginning of the security measures at Digital Realty Trust's massive Chicago data center.

The exterior is embellished with terra cotta shields depicting printers' marks. The building occupies almost a full block, is nine stories tall and has a 14-story tower. Inside, there are visible and unseen protections, some of which the company won't talk about publicly. There are guards at both entrances, cameras inside and out, motion sensors and much more. To access the rooms where rows of servers live, a card must be scanned and a fingerprint recognized.

The interior of the building is a mix of old and new. Because it is a landmark, its wood-lined two-story library, which has been used for photo shoots, must be kept intact. Some corridors feature stone arches overhead, and some offices are paneled in English oak.

Other hallways are sterile and silent. Inside the locked doors of the individual data centers are locked metal-grid cages and, inside them, rows of black shelving with the blinking lights of servers visible through the doors. The only sound is an electronic buzz. Cameras scan every square foot of the room.

Between the rows of servers are "cooling aisles" with thousands of round holes in floor tiles feeding cool air into the space. Over the server shelving are ladder racks that suspend "raceways" — yellow plastic casing enclosing fiber optic cables. The shelving doesn't extend to the ceiling; air must circulate above the servers to keep temperatures down.

Caron says it costs $600-$800 per square foot to build a data center and often less than $70 a square foot for a normal industrial building, including the land. The giant printing presses that once filled space in the former Donnelley building made it ideal for conversion to data center use, he says. A data center floor must be able to handle at least 150 pounds and as much as 400 pounds per square foot. By comparison, most office buildings are built for 70 pounds per square foot.

Huge amounts of electricity power all those servers, he says: 100-150 watts or more per square foot, compared with 3-5 watts for each square foot of an office building. To keep the servers running, there's more than one electrical feed into the building and backup systems and generators ensure there's never an interruption in power. The Chicago facility has 63 generators.

Digital Realty Trust, which bought the building in 2005, owns 96 properties, most of them data centers, in the USA, Europe and Asia, Caron says. There is, he says, "a lot of demand" and the company expects to spend up to $500 million this year on acquisitions. Last year it spent more than $1 billion , he says.

'You have no idea what's here'

Not every data center is a fortress. The one owned by the city of Altamonte Springs, Fla., is a former 770,000-gallon water tank next to City Hall.

Lawrence DiGioia, information services director in the city of 40,000, says he relocated the city's servers after being forced by three hurricanes to pack everything up to keep them out of harm's way. The tank has 8-inch-thick walls. "It did a great job holding water in," he says, "so we knew it could keep water out."

Even a small-scale data center needs security, though. DiGioia says his is protected by video surveillance, requires dual authentication to enter and a biometric lock limits access to the server room.

It's even harder to get into the five data centers 200 feet deep in a former limestone mine in Butler County, Pa.

"The facility affords a very high level of security, not only physical — armed guards, steel gates, layers of security, biometrics — but also we're protected from the elements, civil unrest, terrorist-type things," says Chuck Doughty, vice president of the Underground, as it's called, for Iron Mountain, an information management company.

Except for the cars parked outside, he says, "you'd have no idea what's here." Besides 7 million gigabytes of digital data, including e-mail, computer backup files and digital medical images such as MRIs, the Underground is home to documents, film reels and computer backup tapes owned by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Sony Music and Universal, among others.

Doughty worked for years on Room 48, an experiment in making data centers more energy-efficient and reliable, and is working now on ways to utilize some of the cold water in the mine to cool the computer space without using chillers or cooling towers. He hopes to begin construction next year.

The security of data centers, Doughty says, is becoming increasingly important for companies and governments "not only because of the situation in the United States with terrorism, but because of the world situation."

Lewis says one of the lessons of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was the importance of having data stored in more than one place. As more data centers are built, he says there will be more debate about legal issues: What happens if law enforcement has a warrant for a server that also contains data owned by other companies? Should there be standards for protecting consumers, including requirements that they be notified of breaches? Should data centers be regulated by the government?

John McKay, a visitor to Chicago from Vancouver, Canada, snapped photos of the former printing plant recently. A brochure highlighting historic buildings in the neighborhood had led him to it.

"What a shame," he said, "that it's vacant."

1 comment:

  1. I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information i got gathered. Thanks to Author. Vee Eee Technologies


Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.