An article in the Globe and Mail yesterday says that Quebec’s new provincial government is driving hard to attract large-scale data centres. This is a change of direction from the previous government’s position that big data was not worth the big energy discounts apparently required to land these massive centres.
While Quebec promotes its huge supply of low-cost energy to the likes of internet giants Google and Facebook, provincial officials will also have to factor in the costs and complexities of securing these facilities from potential physical – as well as cyber – threats.
Energy security requires physical security, in other words.
And no one does that better than the Swedes.
Earlier this year we blogged about the world’s safest data centre. Located in an underground Cold War-era nuclear bunker in downtown Stockholm, the server farm of Swedish broadband carrier Bahnhof is carved out of a 100-foot-tall granite hill. It has a single entrance, protected by 20-inch-thick steel doors.
Any resemblance this centre has to a James Bond movie set, it would appear, is entirely on purpose. Among the notable feature of the centre – which retains its wartime codename of “Pionen White Mountains” – are two Maybach diesel submarine engines used for standby power. Whether the operators of this remarkable data centre all wear an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean is, however, uncertain. But that would add to the already-high cool factor, no question.
Stimulating the sense of being secure is also entirely by design, as Doug Alger, author of The Art of the Data Centre, wrote about in a recent interview with Jon Karlung, founder and chairman of the board of Bahnhof.
According to Karlung, the psychology of feeling secure in such a place is as important as the physical security features themselves:
As you know, when you work with a computer center, it [i.e., physical security] might not be of that huge importance. Most errors in my work are basically caused by humans. Human error—that is the most frequent. Mistakes in configurations and whatever can make your environment go down. Not from some kind of big trouble with the physical protection.
But that doesn’t matter because the clients they like what they see. From a marketing perspective, they’ll of course appreciate that they feel secure. Even if I know that humans are more cause of problems than the physical location. They appreciate the solid feeling of the rock. The solid feeling of the rock gives us an advantage compared to a conventional center.
So, as executives at Hydro Quebec roll out the red carpet for companies looking to build massive data centres, they may want to check out a quick Banhof video on YouTube about what it takes to really secure data centres. It’s much shorter than Skyfall, and its security implications are more compelling – perhaps – than Bond’s DB5.