In today’s digital age, data center security plays a pivotal role in ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our most sensitive information. Through a comprehensive blend of secure practices, data centers not only protect against vulnerabilities, threats, and attacks, but also strategically delay, deter, and detect such threats, ensuring timely alerts to both internal security personnel and external law enforcement authorities.

Data center security encompasses measures to safeguard facilities, IT equipment, and information from threats like unauthorized access and breaches. These measures include physical barriers, cybersecurity tools, network protections, and server hardening techniques.

Dgtl Infra delves deep into the world of data center security, exploring its significance, intricate layers, and best practices for robust protection. From the foundational aspects of physical security and cybersecurity to the nuances of server and network safeguards, our comprehensive guide covers it all. Continue reading to learn about the industry standards and tiers that set the benchmarks in this critical domain.

What Is Data Center Security?

Data center security is the set of practices, policies, and technologies used to protect facilities, IT equipment, and the information contained within, from threats such as unauthorized access and data breaches. This protection includes:

  1. Physical Security: Examples are perimeter fencing and biometric access controls
  2. Cybersecurity and Information Security: This includes data encryption and malware protection
  3. Network Security: Solutions like firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS)
  4. Server Security: Techniques such as hardening and access control

Ensuring robust data center security is crucial for safeguarding sensitive data and maintaining the operational integrity of critical IT infrastructure.

Importance of Data Center Security

Data center security is important for a multitude of reasons, spanning operational, financial, legal, and reputational concerns.

Data Center Represented by a Secure Lock with Technology Encryption

Here are some of the reasons why data center security is so vital:

  1. Protection of Data: Data centers store vast amounts of sensitive and critical data. This includes personal details, financial records, intellectual property, business-critical data, customer information, and more. Unauthorized access, loss, or manipulation of this data – from either physical threats or cyber threats such as ransomware and DDoS attacks – can lead to severe consequences for individuals and businesses
  2. Business Continuity: Businesses rely on data centers to keep their operations running, a concept referred to as uptime and typically defined in Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Any disruption, whether from a security breach or another threat, can cause significant operational downtime and data corruption
  3. Financial Impact: Breaches in data center security can result in immediate financial losses due to operational downtime and legal penalties. The aftermath of a data breach can also be expensive, including the costs of forensic investigations, public relations campaigns, and compensation to impacted parties
  4. Compliance and Regulatory: Many industries are governed by regulations and standards that dictate how data should be protected. For instance, the healthcare industry has HIPAA, the financial industry has regulations like PCI DSS, and there’s the GDPR for personal data protection in Europe. Non-compliance can lead to substantial fines and legal repercussions
  5. Reputation: A security breach can severely damage a company’s reputation. In an age where customers value their data privacy, any compromise can lead to a loss of trust, which can be challenging, if not impossible, to restore

Considering the significance and implications of these factors, data center security is essential. While physical security systems account for approximately 5% of facility costs, the integration of cybersecurity measures can significantly elevate these expenses.

How to Secure a Data Center

To establish a secure data center, organizations implement a combination of physical, cyber, network, and server security measures. These precautions help safeguard the servers, storage devices, networking equipment, and the power and cooling infrastructure housed within the data center.

Data Center Building with Large Fence Surrounds Lot

1. Physical Security in Data Centers

Physical security is important for protecting data centers from unauthorized access, ensuring that authorized individuals have the appropriate clearance levels, and mitigating potential threats that could result in catastrophic damage.

This protection includes securing the site’s perimeter, entrances, and exits, as well as the rooms and enclosures that house critical equipment. These areas include the computer room, the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system room, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) room, generator enclosures, and fiber vaults.

While each data center might have its distinct security design, the following are fundamental countermeasures:


Security gates, perimeter fencing, reinforced concrete walls, bollards, protective glazing for doors, and a minimal use of windows all help fortify the data center against unauthorized access and external threats. Adequate lighting is also essential to deter and identify unauthorized individuals.

Tall Black Perimeter Fence Protects Computer Facility as a Barrier
Perimeter fencing controls physical access to the data center.

Access Control

A data center’s vulnerability often lies in the number of its access points. The greater the number of access points, the higher the potential risk. Thus, it’s crucial to have robust security measures in place to safeguard these entry points.

Biometric Access Control Reader with Finger Touching Display

Various methods can be used to control access:

  • Biometric Scanners: These include fingerprint, facial, iris/retinal, voice, and hand recognition systems
  • Card Readers: Devices that require a specific identification card to permit access. These cards typically contain an embedded radiofrequency identification (RFID) chip or an integrated circuit chip when they are “smart cards”
  • Keypads: Devices that require the input of a security code or personal identification number (PIN)
  • Mantraps: Physical spaces that control passage between two areas, allowing only one person to pass at a time. Also referred to as security vestibules, they consist of a sequence of two doors with a small space in between. The visitor is authenticated at the first door before being allowed into the intermediate space. Further verification occurs before the visitor can proceed through the second door. Mantraps require the first door to be closed before the second one can open, preventing tailgating or piggybacking
Modern Glass Mantrap Security Vestibule for Facility Protection

When combined, these methods form a strategy called multi-factor authentication (MFA). In addition to the above, the use of doors with specialized locking mechanisms, turnstiles, and security guards at entry and exit points further regulate access to different areas of the data center.

On the policy side, maintaining detailed access control logs and records of visitors is crucial. These should be kept for a stipulated period of time to ensure traceability and accountability.


Surveillance in data centers is essential for security and utilizes tools such as high-definition CCTV cameras with pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) capabilities, motion detectors, vibration sensors, and alarms. These systems monitor both the exterior and interior of the facility.

Security CCTV Camera On the Side of a Building In Rainy Weather

For optimal coverage, surveillance equipment should be strategically placed at:

  • Entry gates and main doors
  • Visitor lobbies and common areas
  • Rooms housing electrical and cooling equipment
  • Utility and telecom closets
  • Rack aisles
  • Delivery and loading docks
  • Hallways
  • Office spaces

Video surveillance should offer real-time monitoring and have long-term storage capabilities for archived footage. It’s crucial that these systems can clearly identify individuals accessing the data center and track assets being removed or relocated. Additionally, maintaining a log of alarm activations is recommended.

Computer Room

Equip all potential entry points to computer rooms and data halls, including those from the ceiling and beneath the floor, with intrusion alarms and surveillance systems. Implement Electronic Access Control (EAC) systems to monitor and regulate entry and exit to these areas, and maintain detailed entry/exit logs. Within these computer rooms and data halls, it’s essential to limit traffic through dedicated suites and cages, especially private ones.

Telecommunications Cabling

In secure data centers, limit physical access to the data center’s telecommunications cabling infrastructure exclusively to engineers and service provider personnel. Ensure that the data center’s telecommunications cables are not routed through areas open to the public or other building tenants. If they must be, the cables should be housed within enclosed conduits or secure cable trays.


Introducing landscaping features like berms, vegetative screens, trees, curved roadways, and security ditches can obscure visual access to the data center. This not only hides the facility’s exact location from potential threats but also helps create a recommended buffer zone of at least 100 feet around the building’s site.

Data Center Campus Covered on All Sides by Green Landscaping

Additionally, it’s important to maintain a clear space of 10 to 20 feet within the data center compound, either from the perimeter fencing or the data center building itself. This space should not have any trees, plants, or shrubs that could serve as hiding spots or facilitate unauthorized access into the facility.


Ensure all areas with restricted access, like closed or secure zones, are marked with clear signage. This helps in directing pedestrian and vehicular traffic and prevents them from accidentally entering unauthorized areas of the data center facility.

2. Cybersecurity and Information Security in Data Centers

Protecting against cyber threats and unauthorized digital access, often referred to as virtual security, is crucial for data centers that utilize virtualization technology. Virtualization allows multiple virtual instances, such as virtual machines (VMs), to run on a single physical server, abstracting resources like compute, storage, and networking. This enables IT administrators to manage data center operations remotely through software.

IT Infrastructure Safeguards Cybersecurity and Information Security

While relying on software for data center management offers flexibility, it also increases the vulnerability to cyberattacks and information theft. To safeguard against these cybersecurity risks, data centers implement the following measures to prevent unauthorized remote access and protect data:

  • Authentication: This ensures users and devices are who they claim to be. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is especially robust, combining various methods (like a PIN with a smart card) to grant access to critical systems
  • Data Encryption: Secure data at all stages – whether in use, in transit, or at rest – using strong algorithms. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools are vital for preventing unauthorized access or data transfers
  • Application Hardening: Optimize security by only installing essential applications and disabling unnecessary ones. Regularly patch applications, operating systems, and drivers to protect against known vulnerabilities. Enhance security further by modifying default configurations, such as deactivating unneeded or potentially risky features
  • Malware Protection: Equip all endpoints, including servers and virtual machines (VMs), with up-to-date antivirus and antimalware software. This provides a defense against a variety of malicious software types, including viruses, worms, and spyware. Furthermore, protecting the hypervisor, which enables multiple VMs to run on one host, is vital since any vulnerabilities could compromise all the VMs it hosts
  • Public Key Infrastructure (PKI): PKI provides a framework of trusted digital certificates issued by certified Certificate Authorities (CAs). These certificates play important roles in authentication, digital signing, and encryption. While self-signed certificates can be utilized for internal purposes, CA-issued certificates are often preferred for public-facing applications due to the inherent trust they provide
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM software offers a centralized hub for logs, audit trails, and security alerts, enabling real-time detection of suspicious activities across applications, operating systems, and more
  • Security Operations Center (SOC): A SOC is a dedicated unit specializing in cybersecurity. It continually monitors activities across networks, servers, endpoints, and databases to detect and counteract threats

3. Network Security in Data Centers

Network security in data centers is critical due to the constant flow of data across numerous interconnected devices and systems. This security not only protects data in transit but also defends against threats such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, unauthorized intrusions, and network eavesdropping.

Secure Data Centers Digital Lock Glowing Blue Binary Network

To counter these threats, data centers utilize a comprehensive array of protocols, tools, and settings to ensure a robust and resilient network infrastructure:

  • Access Control: After successful authentication, access control determines whether a user is granted or denied access to network resources like shared folders, web applications, or databases. Access is governed by Access Control Lists (ACLs), which are filtering mechanisms
  • Security Zones: These are designated areas within the network that separate sensitive systems from public-facing ones. They’re typically fortified with multi-layered firewalls and might include screened subnets or Demilitarized Zones (DMZs) for externally accessible services
  • Firewalls: These devices divide Local Area Network (LAN) segments, assigning different security levels to each. They create a security boundary that manages traffic flow between the segments, filtering out undesirable traffic
  • Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS): IDPS tools monitor and defend both hosts and networks by detecting activity that deviates from regular patterns. Host-based systems (HIDS) focus on individual hosts, scrutinizing traffic and system logs. In contrast, network-based systems (NIDS) monitor the entire network activity. Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) both detect and mitigate threats, for instance by blocking malicious traffic or preventing the spread of malware
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): VPNs establish encrypted connections across untrustworthy networks such as the Internet. They can facilitate secure remote access (client-to-site) or connect different network locations (site-to-site). They use various protocols, including PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and SSL, to ensure secure, encrypted communication between the user’s device and the VPN server
  • IPSec: This secures network traffic for both IPv4 and IPv6, which are used to route data across networks. It provides a tunnel mode for encrypting the entire IP packet and a transport mode for encrypting only the payload, eliminating the need for individual application settings or PKI certificates
  • Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs): VLANs group network nodes into segmented virtual networks, effectively isolating and protecting sensitive data and systems from unauthorized access. This segmentation acts as a barrier, limiting potential damage if one part of the network is compromised and reducing the risk of lateral movement in the event of a security or data breach. Furthermore, VXLAN can extend VLAN capabilities across distributed data centers, providing greater scalability and isolation through virtualized layer 2 networks over a layer 3 infrastructure
  • Hardware Hardening: Protecting physical network equipment, like routers, switches, and storage systems, is vital. Regularly updating firmware ensures vulnerabilities in hardware are addressed, reducing potential exploit vectors

4. Server Security in Data Centers

Servers, whether connected to the internet or isolated from it, require continuous security protection within a data center. This security begins in the computer or server room and includes additional physical barriers, access controls, and monitoring.

IT Technician Implements Server Security in Rack within Data Center

The following are key server security measures:

  • Physical Security: Ensure server locations are protected by utilizing locked rooms. Implement access controls such as keycards or biometric systems. Additionally, equip server racks and cabinets with locks for added security
  • Access Control: Adopt role-based access control (RBAC) and reinforce security with multi-factor authentication (MFA). Implement session management tools, such as session timeouts, to prevent unauthorized access over prolonged periods
  • Server Hardening: Centralize the configuration process within data centers to achieve server hardening. This involves eliminating unnecessary services and software, enforcing the principle of least privilege, setting strong password protocols, and staying updated with regular patches for both the operating system and other server software. This centralized approach is more efficient than manually configuring each server individually
  • Data Security: Safeguard data by encrypting it both at rest (when stored) and in transit (when being transferred over networks). Use RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) systems to ensure data redundancy. Regularly back up data and validate the integrity of these backups. Ensure file and folder permissions are set securely, as well as consistently monitor and audit the access and usage of sensitive information

Layers of Data Center Security

Physical data center security is typically implemented in multiple layers or zones. The closer one gets to the core of the facility or campus, the stricter the security measures become. The highest level of security is at the physical server located in a rack inside the computer room of a data center, and in the rooms where these servers are disposed, ensuring that only authorized personnel can access these sensitive areas.

Layers of Datacentre Zones Framework for Facilities

By adopting a layered security approach, organizations can deter, detect, and detain potential threats at every layer of their secure data centers, thereby minimizing the risk of breaches. Here are the six layers of data center physical security designed to prevent unauthorized access:

Layer 1 – Site Perimeter

The site perimeter of a secure data center serves as the first line of defense, restricting site entry predominantly through a guarded main entrance gate and perimeter fencing. Prior visitor notifications are essential, ensuring only expected guests on a secure access list can enter, after providing identification. Security features such as fencing with integrated motion sensors, 24/7 surveillance with both thermal and standard cameras, and anti-intrusion systems like vehicle crash barriers make this layer highly secure.

Layer 2 – Building Access

Upon reaching the building, a mantrap is used to enter the facility followed by a stringent sign-in process overseen by trained guards. This layer leads to a secure lobby where visitors are authenticated using card readers and biometric access controls, such as iris scans. A 24/7 staffed visitor control center ensures the strict management of visitors, displaying and tracking movement on large monitors. Furthermore, badge checks are mandatory at all entry points, and a standardized entry protocol is maintained.

Layer 3 – Operational Rooms

Operational rooms within secure data centers, including the core network room, where essential networking equipment is located, as well as the Security Operations Center (SOC), are pivotal in the overall data center design. The SOC serves as the central hub of security operations, consistently monitoring every door, camera, badge reader, and iris scan for any anomalies.

Monitoring and Surveillance Screens In Security Operations Center SOC

With security staff often having government clearances, the security standard in these rooms is high, ensuring all data center activities remain under scrutiny.

Layer 4 – Computer Rooms and Data Halls

This critical layer houses the data, and access is strictly “as-needed.” Entry often involves passing through another mantrap, ensuring only one individual enters a computer room or data hall at a time, followed by a dual factor authentication via badge and iris scan. Even within this layer, while technicians may gain access to devices, the data stored remains encrypted. Comprehensive security coverage is ensured with multi-directional cameras capturing all activities.

Layer 5 – Racks and Cabinets

This layer offers controlled access directly at the IT equipment’s location in secure data centers, serving as the point for server and network cable access. To ensure the highest level of security, integrated camera systems inside the racks monitor for any unexpected activity, such as an open cabinet door. This focused monitoring ensures immediate detection of any anomalies.

Layer 6 – Secure Media Disposal

The secure media disposal area in data centers is the most restricted layer and focuses on ensuring data on retired hard drives is wiped or physically destroyed. Only technicians with specialized access can retrieve and process these drives, using methods such as crushing, drilling, degaussing, or shredding. Once destroyed, remains are sent to recycling centers, while drives slated for reuse undergo thorough data scrubbing or hard wiping to ensure complete data removal.

Best Practices for Data Center Security

Often in data centers, the most vulnerable aspect of security is the human element, as humans are prone to making mistakes and errors.

Security Officer Wears Uniform with Radio at Night and On Shift Patrol

To ensure a robust security framework within data centers, consider implementing the following best practices:

1. Monitoring and Incident Response

  • Continuously monitor data center operations
  • Implement immediate alert systems for security breaches
  • Develop a detailed response plan for potential security incidents

2. Policy, Procedure, and Change Management

  • Institute a structured change management process for all modifications to the data center to avoid unintentional vulnerabilities
  • Maintain updated and thorough documentation of all security protocols, procedures, and systems
  • For instance, restrict data center floor access during maintenance to authorized personnel only

3. Personnel Management

  • Prioritize rigorous hiring practices and clear segregation of duties to mitigate security risks from internal sources, such as individuals within the data center
  • Regularly conduct background checks
  • Provide ongoing security training to keep staff updated on security protocols and threat responses

4. Vendor Management

  • Limit vendor access to the data center to only essential activities
  • Ensure vendors adhere to the required security standards before they can gain access to systems

5. Regular Audits

  • Periodically assess the effectiveness of security measures to ensure ongoing compliance and adapt to emerging threats or vulnerabilities
  • Activities can include penetration testing to simulate cyberattacks and engaging external firms to attempt physical data center breaches

6. Fire Protection

Tiers of Data Center Security

While not solely a security measure, implementing robust and redundant infrastructure can protect against data loss and downtime, both of which pose security risks. Design tiers play an important role in the security of data centers and can be categorized as follows:

  • Tier 1: Basic infrastructure without redundant capacity components. These data center facilities have a minimal focus on physical security measures beyond basic elements, such as perimeter fencing and surveillance cameras, as well as virtual security measures like firewalls
  • Tier 2: Some redundancy in critical power and cooling components. These buildings provide enhanced physical security measures, such as controlled access points and security guards, but they still have potential for single points of failure and lack virtual security measures like advanced threat detection and response systems
  • Tier 3: Multiple active power and cooling paths. These secure data centers have increased security through concurrent maintainability, reducing downtime risks, as well as Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions, and stronger data protection measures, such as the use of encryption
  • Tier 4: Full redundancy and fault tolerance in all components. These secure data centers have the highest security standards, such as biometric access controls, 24/7 security personnel, and advanced threat detection systems with continuous monitoring

READ MORE: Data Center Tiers – What’s the Difference Between 1, 2, 3, and 4?

Data Center Security Standards

Choosing the right data center security standards is crucial. These choices are often shaped by regional and industry-specific regulations.

Man Touching Future Digital Secure Shield Hologram

Key standards for secure data centers and information security include:

  1. ISO/IEC 27001: An international standard that outlines the best practices for an information security management system (ISMS)
  2. SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2): A standard that focuses on a business’s non-financial reporting controls as they relate to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of a system
  3. NIST SP 800-53: A publication by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology providing guidelines for federal information systems, except those related to national security
  4. PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard): A set of security standards designed to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment
  5. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act): U.S. legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions to safeguard medical information
  6. FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act): U.S. legislation that mandates the security of information systems that support federal agencies or those receiving federal funds
  7. TIA-942 (Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers): A standard that specifies the minimum requirements for data center infrastructure, including the physical elements of data center security solutions
  8. ISO/IEC 27017: An international standard providing guidelines for information security controls applicable to the provisioning and use of cloud services

Data center security standards remain a top priority for all organizations. Whether they are financial services companies safeguarding payment details, such as PCI DSS, or healthcare institutions protecting patient data, such as HIPAA, adherence to these standards is crucial for maintaining the security and integrity of their operations.

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.


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