[ISN] Escape from data Alcatraz

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Dec 27 2001 - 23:16:30 PST

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    By Jeanne-Vida Douglas, ZDNet Australia
    27 December 2001
    "There are two ways to attack a data centre very quickly," says
    Richard Brown solemnly, as he leads the way through the dead mans
    zone. "The first is to kill the power, and the second is to attack the
    air conditioning."
    He stops for a moment before continuing the tour and points out some
    details which make it impossible to escape from the dimly lit metal
    and glass cell in which he stands.
    "It is called the dead mans zone because even if someone manages to
    get this far into the building, they won't make it any further, and
    they certainly won't be able to escape," Brown says.
    Built initially to house currency, the Hostworks data centre in the
    suburb of Kidman Park, Adelaide is a tribute to the profligacy of
    Timothy Marcus Clark, former head of the State Bank of South
    Australia. Nestled in a semi-industrial area, with minimum road
    signage, it is at once unassuming, virtually impenetrable and to this
    day an inspirational feet of excess engineering.
    Any William Gibson fan knows that information is the currency of the
    new age, and won't be surprised that what was built as a massive bank
    vault, now preserves the integrity of vast amounts of data.
    Triangular in shape, two of the sides house offices while the third, a
    large rectangular block if taken in isolation, contains two data
    centres, as well as the infrastructure to ensure that Web sites
    continue to function come fire, flood, natural catastrophy or foreign
    "The centre itself has a lot of contingency built into the design,"  
    Brown says, as his footsteps echo down a chilly concrete corridor in
    the labyrinthine bowels of the centre.
    Housed within the structure the air conditioning units take in air
    through cooling towers encased in armour, and draw water from no less
    than two totally separate water supplies, plus an onsite reservoir.
    "We maintain the centre at a permanent 17-19 degrees Celsius," says
    Brown. "And as the heat exchanges are located within the centre they
    are protected from both the natural elements, and from direct attack."
    Designed as a southern Fort Knox, the structure is earthquake proof,
    bomb resistant, and provides anti ram capabilities. Doors throughout
    the complex are secured with a Honeywell Access Control System, and
    staff working at the facility are supplied with a proximity card,
    which allows them access only to a specified area.
    Fire prevention and control is provided through a FM200 fire
    suppressant system under the floor, and dry pipe sprinkler systems.  
    The data centres are also separated by reinforced walls designed to
    retard fire.
    Electricity is provided to the centre through three separate feeds
    from two different substations, and three massive UPS systems ensure
    that the power supply is both clean and constant. The contingency plan
    requires that two units be running simultaneously, in case of failure
    of a single unit.
    There are also three wet cell battery rooms, providing back up in case
    all three electricity feeds suddenly drop out and threaten the
    centre's operations. At the heart of the electrical back up is a
    spotless bright blue V16 twin turbo-charged diesel generator capable
    of supplying the centre with up to 1.8 Mw.
    "The generator set is started automatically if the power supply drops
    below the defined building criteria," explains Brown. "The engine is
    started by compressed air, and can be fed through two underground
    tanks, which combine to provide seven weeks capacity of Diesel."
    The generator is also started up every six weeks, to make sure it is
    fully operational at all times.
    However, unlike a jail or bank vault Hostwork’s data centre also has
    to provide more than 75 percent of Australia’s Internet users with
    regular access to the information hosted at the Kidman Park premises.  
    To ensure this connectivity is maintained the centre also relies on
    three pipes which plug into different exchanges, in totally different
    parts of the state.
    While the business of protecting data is serious, Brown admits the
    Hostworks data centre is a thrilling place to work, and while he won't
    be drawn on the centre's capacity, he is confident the centre is large
    enough to host the companys forcast growth at least over the coming
    "We can increase our capacity by at least 300 percent before we have
    to think about moving," Brown says smiling. “So at this stage it looks
    like I will be coming down to start up the generator for some time to
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