Modern data center borrows medieval security tactics

Visa’s data center employs biometrics, hydraulics and a good-old-fashioned moat to protect its east coast data center.

Its location cannot be disclosed (it is somewhere on the eastern seaboard), has a drainage pond that acts as a moat, and it has seven 20,000-square-foot areas (or pods), all connected.

It is Visa’s data center, featured in this article on USA Today. A good read, for sure.

Fast Company wrote about the data center – known as OCE, or Operations Center East – last year. That article is equally interesting, and equally a good read.

Visits to the data center are reportedly rare. Visa, after all, has to keep safe a gazillion credit card transactions. Security there is impressive, redundancy is too. There’s plenty of high-tech protection, but there’s some old-fashioned security too that harkens back to the middle ages.

There’s lots of interesting features about this data center, which Visa officially opened in 2009. When Visa opened it, the company said the new data center was becoming its second North American facility, giving it two synchronized centers that are each capable of supporting Visa's entire global payments volume in the event of a natural disaster or systems outage. There is instant fail-over technology between all four of Visa’s data centers on three continents. The data center can process hundreds of millions of transactions each day – and more than 10,000 transaction messages per second. It has more than 140,000 square feet of raised floor space.

But back to the moat, which is detailed in both aforementioned articles. Apparently, the moat is there to catch vehicles that might speed up the road leading to the OCE and can break through the hydraulic guards that can quickly be raised when unauthorized vehicles need to be stopped. The guards can stop a car going up to 50 miles per hour. If a car does break through, there’s a razor-sharp turn that can’t be navigated by that car, and the driver will most likely end up into the moat (posing as the drainage pond). Okay, so the drainage pond is no San Francisco Bay, which as we all know served as Alcatraz’ moat. But the OCE’s drainage pond and unwieldy road is still pretty impressive.

There are other security features that are pretty impressive, according to the articles. The facility is built to withstand earthquakes and hurricane force winds up to 170 mph (that means it can hold its own against a Cat 5). If there was an outage, there are two diesel generators totaling 4 megawatts of power that can keep the center running for nine days. Each of the pods have two rooms with 1,000 heavy-duty batteries each.

Getting in requires clearance from a guard station and a mobile security guy apparently riding around in a golf cart (according to the USA Today article). It also requires a photo, and fingerprints. The photos and fingerprints are necessary so the visitor can move through a security portal that requires a badge and biometric image of his or her fingerprint.

The Fast Company article reports that the OCE was built to meet the Uptime Institute’s standard of a Tier 4 center, the highest ranking of the institute’s classification system for evaluating data center infrastructure in terms of a business’ requirements for system availability.

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