[ISN] Server Farm: Your Place or Mine?

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Nov 14 2001 - 07:06:31 PST

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    By Julia Scheeres
    Nov. 14, 2001
    In an era of growing insecurity, having your computer equipment tucked
    into a hole 85 feet underground has a certain appeal.
    That's the selling point of Underground Secure Data Center Operations
    (USDCO), a server farm located in an abandoned gypsum mine near Grand
    Rapids, Michigan.
    USDCO execs are stressing the bunker-like qualities of their
    750,000-square-foot mine in the wake of the terrorist attacks and
    subsequent data and equipment destruction.
    Most data centers are above ground and vulnerable to the kind of
    cataclysmic attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, a company
    spokesman Ryan McGrath pointed out. But this underground stronghold
    would even have weathered the crash of Flight 93 on Sept. 11, which
    dug a 25-foot crater in rural Pennsylvania.
    "It's a disaster-proof environment," said co-founder Irvin Wolfson.
    "We've got 85 feet of solid rock over us."
    Acts of God pose little threat either: There are no earthquake fault
    lines in Michigan and any groundwater seepage is controlled with a
    couple of sump pumps.
    The 100-year-old mine is naturally suited for housing computers, he
    added. The temperature hovers at a chilly 50 degrees with 79 percent
    humidity, which reduces computer-generated static electricity that can
    short out equipment.
    The mine harvested gypsum - a mineral used in plaster - until the
    1940s. Then it was inactive for almost two decades before being
    converted into a gigantic refrigerator for warehousing food and other
    perishables by the Michigan Natural Storage Company, which still owns
    the mine and is a partner in the company.
    The layout of the cavern consists of a main 40-foot-wide corridor that
    branches out into a series of smaller chambers with 10-foot ceilings.
    The mine is equipped with back-up generators and multiple DS3 Internet
    The company leases rack space for as little as $100 a month or an
    entire chamber for much more, depending on the client's requirements.
    Since USDCO opened its shaft for business in July, 25 customers have
    signed on.
    The surging demand for data centers has paralleled the growth of the
    information technology sector. Many companies mirror their in-house
    servers at co-location facilities such as USDCO so they can seamlessly
    switch to the hosted servers if disaster strikes, allowing them to
    never go offline.
    According to research firm Yankee Group, the data center business
    generated $9 billion in revenue last year and will grow to more than
    $47 billion by 2003.
    Data centers are an important niche in the IT field. For most
    companies, the loss or interruption of critical data can lead to
    punishing financial damages. A switch failure at the New York Stock
    Exchange in 1998, for example, halted trading for 59 minutes, causing
    multi-million-dollar losses.
    Some data centers advertise their fortress-like locations to soothe
    customers' fears. Consider The Bunker, a British hosting company
    located in a former NATO nuclear bunker outside of London. Or HavenCo
    a managed co-location business based on Sealand, a WWII-era gunnery
    off England's coast that is also the world's smallest principality.
    Other companies hawk their rigid security measures. At San Francisco's
    UPNetworks , the computers are safeguarded by four consecutive doors
    that require swipe cards, said CEO Richard Leslie. Clients are
    escorted by staff to the center's bowels and are monitored by
    surveillance cameras even when they're alone with their equipment.
    Q9, a data center in Toronto, uses both proximity cards and
    fingerprint scanners to access the computer room, which is entered
    through a bullet-proof revolving door that allows only one person
    through at a time.
    "The whole idea is that someone can't force another person to let them
    in," said Q9 CEO Osama Arafat. "It's just part of the due diligence
    that people demand."
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