Data centers tackling cyber terrorism, slowly

The data center is receiving more public scrutiny than ever before, with IT managers facing a range of challenges from making systems run more efficiently to protecting computers from cyber terrorism, says AFCOM chief executive Jill Eckhaus

The 30-year-old organization for data center managers is holding its twice-yearly Data Center World show from March 7-11 in Nashville, Tenn., where IT folks will learn about the most pressing issues facing data centers today and share their own experiences.

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Cyber terrorism is one of the topics Eckhaus is looking forward to examining further. AFCOM’s recent survey of more than 400 data center pros found that only one-third have included cyber terrorism in disaster recovery plans, only one-quarter have addressed cyber terrorism in policies and procedures manuals, and only one-fifth provide cyber terrorism employee training. These low numbers were recorded despite the fact that 61% of data center managers said they recognize cyber terrorism as a threat they need to address.

No data center manager is likely to ignore security, but AFCOM officials say they need to recognize that cyber terror poses a more serious threat than a typical hacker.

“A hacker might be a student just looking for a challenge,” Eckhaus says. “Cyber terrorists want to destroy the United States. That’s the difference.”

AFCOM will host two sessions on cyber terrorism during the conference. Unfortunately, in a bad economy companies that already have security plans “tend to say what we have is good enough,” Eckhaus says. “They’re really at the very beginning stages.”

Even beyond security, public scrutiny of data centers seems to be increasing, as the 24/7 business world expects computer systems that never fail or slow down. Eckhaus says this is both good and bad for data center managers, because the public is recognizing the important work they do, but also demanding more.

“This is a really unique time, because for the first time in history the data center is in the public eye,” Eckhaus says. “People are starting to understand how vital data centers are. We could not do business as usual without data centers.”

Corporate management is demanding that data centers run more efficiently, both to save money on power costs and to appear environmentally friendly in the public eye, Echuas notes. Going green is important, in part because providing enough power and cooling to data centers is becoming more difficult, she says. But the IT industry is “saturating” data center managers with the green buzzword, she says.

“It’s a buzzword that’s been around for a few years, because the data center sucks up so much energy,” Eckhaus says. “Corporate management is really looking down at the data center now and saying ‘what are you going to do.’”

Even as data centers strive to reduce power consumption, they must deal with the reality that demand for information services is growing. Storage needs are booming, as is global Internet traffic and use of mobile Internet devices, says Brian Lillie, who is CIO of co-location provider Equinix and the keynote speaker at the Data Center World conference.

Co-location centers are enabling new cloud computing models, which require strict uptime enabled by redundancy across many aspects of the data center. For example, a reliable data center has multiple network connections from separate providers, such as Sprint and AT&T, Lillie says.

Today’s data center manager is demanding “six 9s or better,” he says. “Reliability is one of the biggest concerns, and embedded in that is they need power. Power is probably the largest issue they’re dealing with.”

Separately from the AFCOM conference, a survey by data center provider Digital Realty Trust shows that data centers are being expanded at a rapid clip. The company’s survey of 300 large North American corporations found that 83% plan data center expansions in the next two years. The need for additional power is the biggest driver of data center expansions, the survey found.

Many companies are also trying to consolidate multiple data centers into fewer facilities, but that usually entails building one or two new data centers while shutting down older ones, Eckhaus says. Often, these new data centers are located in areas with cheap access to power and a climate that allows use of free cooling.

“With these consolidation projects, they’re not using existing facilities – they’re building new facilities,” she says.Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter:

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Data centers tackling cyber terrorism, slowly" was originally published by Network World.

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