19 Aug 2020

Can a physical building have a virtual mantrap?

Back in April, Microsoft CEO Staya Nadella said “We’ve seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months,” referring to the rate at which people shifted business interactions online, when they were forced to by the lockdown measures imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This sort of stance was common in the early stages of the lockdown. Businesses that could operate digitally, suddenly jumped in that direction. Companies that had previously frowned on home-working made it compulsory, and staff were “encouraged” into Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other networking tools.

Cloud businesses like Microsoft’s and the data centers which deliver them saw boom times coming. But what about the businesses which require a physical presence? More pointedly, what about the points where the cloud infrastructure has to exist in the real world?

Data centers shifted as much work as possible to remote systems, and colocation providers noticed a rapid take-up in the remote control options they had installed for their customers. Engineering staff were given new rosters, designed to make sure that their skills were available, but shifts would not infect each other.

Some parts of the job are inherently physical. Data centers have walls and fences designed to keep out intruders. Inside their walls, visitors have to be monitored and kept to specific areas where they have rights of access. In colocation spaces, customers have a right to access their own equipment, and must be prevented from touching anyone else’s.

All that has always been the case, but now there’s a new dimension, when touching can spread the virus. Data center security aimed at protecting data and equipment doesn’t automatically also look after lives.

Luckily, many aspects are on the right lines already, and pressures to minimise access can also be used to minimise contact. CCTV, automated security and authentication by biometric methods and swipe cards may have been implemented for efficiency, but it also minimises contact with people.

The man trap in the entrance to the data center can isolate visitors, and with swipe-card access and CCTV in the halls, it’s not necessary to accompany a visitor to keep them where they should be.

CCTV and drones can effectively patrol remote parts of a site. Very small facilities won’t have on-site security staff due to cost concerns which have driven the industry towards lights-out facilities. That possibility could extend upwards to larger data centers, or be applied for longer periods of time

Lance Devin, CIO at EdgeConnex, told me his company, which makes small build-to-order facilities for smaller cities, has taken this in its stride, as visits are already handled remotely in its lightly-staffed facilities, which have a mantrap and callbox which can let people in remotely - after the mantrap takes a picture of them, along with their photo ID, and a biometric scan.

At the moment, this kind of thing is the exception, and Devin had to put Edgeconnex’s system together from partial solutions, but it’s a sign of the times.

Even after the lockdown eases, when you visit a data center, don’t expect to be greeted with a physical handshake.

Peter Judge (Guest)

Peter Judge is Global Editor at Datacenter Dynamics and a freelance tech writer on data centres, the cloud and networking. You can follow him at: @judgecorp


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