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Centre of Attention

04 August 2020

Much like investors, systems integrators across Europe are looking to diversify their customer portfolios. The rapidly growing world of the data economy offers some great opportunities. Here, Jamie Barnfield outlines how the sector operates and why security solutions are in high demand

AS SYSTEMS integrators look for new project opportunities in what, at the present time, is something of an unpredictable economy, one sector really stands out. The data handling market is not just recession-proof, but it’s also growing at a phenomenal rate – and it needs security.

Growth in the demand for storage, capacity and computational power is being driven by both businesses and consumers alike. We’re seeing this through the increased use of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, organisations – including major corporate entities and Government enterprises – shifting their infrastructures to the cloud and by dint of the integration of 5G and edge becoming part of cloud deployments.

To this mix we can add the increased data traffic arising from Internet of Things devices that demand secured connectivity, the increasing computational power required to fuel the development of Artificial Intelligence-centred applications and large digitisation projects and, of course, the continued shift of retail to e-commerce (a trend greatly heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Co-location Data Centre market

While Amazon Web Services has attracted a lot of attention thanks to its phenomenal success (if it were a separate company its plausible £382 billion value would place it in the US Top 10),  investment in the co-location (co-lo) Data Centre market has also continued at pace, yet with far less fanfare.

Without even factoring-in the effects of Coronavirus/COVID-19 – which has, of course, greatly increased the demand for online applications and streaming – the co-lo market was set to double by 2024 in comparison to 2018. While many sectors saw a downturn following the Brexit decision, the UK’s own co-lo market continued to burgeon at an extraordinary speed.

For security integrators and installers, co-lo is an interesting market because it’s a fragmented one, with players ranging from small companies offering a handful of racks through to global hyperscale, wholesale and eco-system players. As major corporates continue to outsource their infrastructures, enterprise sites are re-purposed as co-lo capacity. The same is happening in the public sector as Government departments gradually migrate legacy estates to third party operators.  

Corridors of opportunity 

It’s true to state that, unless you have sector experience or work with the right consultants, the market can be difficult to evaluate and quantify. Yet systems integrators in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands are finding that partnering with the right security vendors is positioning them to expand in what has become a market ripe with opportunities.

So which sites are we talking about? Many co-lo Data Centres in traditional markets are found on the outskirts of major cities. Historically, real estate was relatively cheap here, and Data Centres were close to major corporate users that needed high-level connectivity. For their part, operators requiring high-security environments set up in ex-military facilities.

Others occupied old industrial sites, which is a truism evidenced in particular here in the UK along the M4 motorway. The M4 corridor warrants its name not just because it’s home to global ICT companies, but also for the high-speed data highway that connects central London to Data Centres that sprang up in Slough and, indeed, further west of that town.

Similarly, London’s Docklands, just east of The Square Mile, boasts one of the highest concentrations of Data Centres in Europe, with many hyperscale operators scooping up what remained of viable real estate following re-development.

Today, the scarcity of further available sites with the position, power and range to serve big corporate customers has reduced choices for co-lo Data Centre operators looking to remain competitive. They need to increase networking and storage capacity and develop hyperconverged offerings at existing sites, leverage new capacity that comes into the market from enterprise outsourcing or otherwise build new facilities.

Threats and risks

Some of the most common threats posed to Data Centres are Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, data theft or alteration, the unauthorised use of computing resources and identity theft. In parallel, common vulnerabilities can include software design and protocol flaws, coding errors and incomplete testing regimes, while the use of defaults during system configuration and elements simply inappropriately configured can also induce problems.

DDoS attacks are where a large number of systems are compromised and used as the source of (or traffic on) a synchronised attack. In this kind of attack episode, the hacker doesn’t use only one IP address, but thousands of them.

Etymologically speaking, eavesdropping means secretly listening to a conversation. In the networking field, it’s an unauthorised interception of information (such as usernames and/or passwords) that travels on the network. User logons are the most common signals sought. Viruses and worms, meanwhile, are malicious code that, when executed, produce undesired results. Worms are self-replicating malware whereas viruses, which also can replicate, need some kind of human action to cause damage.

According to the Cost of a Data Breach Survey which 49 US-based companies in 14 different industry sectors participated, 39% of those companies interviewed said that negligence was the primary cause of data breaches, while malicious or criminal attacks accounted for 37% of total breaches. The average cost of a data breach was found to be £4.2 million.

The cost of a breach of security can have severe consequences on both the company managing the Data Centre and on the customers whose data is violated. The 2012 breach at Global Payments, a processing vendor for Visa, where 1.5 million credit card numbers were stolen, highlights the risks of storing and managing valuable and confidential data. As a direct result, Global Payments’ partnership with Visa was terminated. It was estimated that the former lost over £76 million.

Role of security

Each new build Data Centre – and the majority of upgrades and fit-outs, for that matter – will embrace physical security. Tier 3 and Tier 4 Data Centres require robust and compliant physical measures from bollards and gates through to sophisticated perimeter intruder detection.  

Full-HD and, increasingly, ultra-HD video surveillance needs to cope in all lighting conditions providing complete coverage of internal and external areas.  This typically means a combination of domes and bullet cameras, with motion detection, low-light and PTZ cameras. Fisheye cameras for internal areas, especially server rooms, offer savings over multiple fixed lens cameras. 

Integrated with access control solutions, video is also required to support multi-factor authentication at all access points. These include anti-tailgating or back-pass turnstiles or airlocks combined with biometrics. High-risk areas, such as wiring closets and server rooms, require another layer of security. Video footage for these areas is usually retained for 90 days as standard.

In addition, facilities with few visitors will opt for 24/7 monitoring rather than hiring security officers to provide virtual guarding and mobile response services. System health checks, remote diagnostics and regular preventative maintenance visits will also be crucial services in order to mitigate risks.

High-tech operators constantly striving for operational efficiency are likely early adopters for deep learning analytics that can reduce false alarms caused by environmental factors. This will help them keep third party monitoring and call-out costs down to the bare minimum.

Data Centre management teams are also exploring how they can leverage security investments in order to drive down the cost of cooling, for instance integrating by access control with HVAC systems.

Biometrics and thermals

Today, many Data Centres also need to consider the use of hand and fingerprint scanners to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  This gives systems integrators opportunities to switch out biometrics for contactless readers, such as iris scanners and facial recognition. The deployment of cameras for mask detection at access points, especially for server rooms, together with other technologies designed to control occupancy and safe working practices will help reduce the risk of infection and the need for expert cleaning services.

In addition, many Data Centres already use thermal cameras for surveys as part of annual insurance reviews for certification status, including uptime rating. As a result, more operators are looking to deploy them as permanent tools that can alert staff to ‘hot spots’ in server racks and elevated temperatures in sub-station transformers, switchboards, power and back-up systems and HVAC systems – all for improved preventative maintenance and fault-finding.

While Tier 3 and Tier 4 projects may be out of reach for some smaller security installation businesses, Tier 1 and some Tier 2 facilities are less demanding because they don’t require the guarantee of 24/7 uptime. As such, they need a simpler security set-up and offer a way in for reputable smaller companies that don’t yet have a proven track record or accreditations under their belt.

Rack space rental is also popping up at a rapid pace, including in town centres, to support flourishing new tech and media start-ups that don’t possess either the capital or resources to deploy and maintain their own IT infrastructure.  These also need a level of security that will encompass video, access control, intruder and intercom systems.

Growing requirement

In this booming sector, there’s a rapidly rising demand for security solutions. Co-lo Data Centres are constantly evaluating efficiency, with their owners’ management teams building business cases for new technology and upgrades that deliver cost savings. 

It’s also worth noting that the UK’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure is raising the bar and issuing guidance in this area, so it’s not unlikely that, in the near future, Data Centres will become the fourteenth sector listed as UK Critical National Infrastructure.  

When you come to review your sales plan into Q4 and beyond, while the economic outlook may remain gloomy in many sectors due to the impact of the pandemic, bear in mind that Data Centres are likely to be a safe bet for the new economy. That being so, it will be worth aligning your business with the right tech partners and consultants sooner rather than later.

Jamie Barnfield is Sales Director at IDIS Europe (www.idisglobal.com)