Data Centers are all about the client’s peace of mind: they expect the long list of benefits promised by centralized data storage and application in the cloud: Uptime. Backups. Redundancy. Instant, on-demand scalability for both bandwidth and storage. 

And perhaps the most important, all-encompassing requirement? Security.

It’s Not All Cyberattacks

Obviously, security is a broad category. The most prevalent, exhausting, and expensive challenge is preventing the ongoing waves of cyberattacks on both specific client servers and entire centers. But as the sophistication of these attacks improves, so do the caliber of tools and services to battle them. 

It’s Not All Cyberattacks

As such, many hackers and well-funded, state-sponsored spies will resort to the physical world, with breaches perpetrated by an intruder or even a company employee who is being compensated well enough to compromise his employer’s security. In these cases, that first step may be a matter of quietly adding a drive or memory stick to the system, stealing, tampering with, and replacing equipment, or using micro cameras to record activities. ID cards and keys can be stolen, duplicated, and returned without anyone being the wiser. A laptop “carelessly” left at a desk could actually be scanning the environment, wireless making its way into the system. 

And then there are the most daring intrusions by outsiders — those who manage to sneak past the physical barriers and security systems, as well as delivery people or contractors (or those dressed up and posing as them), or other seemingly innocent visitors actually on their way to steal assets, plant a virus, or cause harm. 

In short, these undetected physical incursions are often the Achilles’ heel of the facility.

The “Attack” Isn’t Always Malicious

And we can’t forget that beyond human actions, there are physical threats that are not intentional (or even human): water leaks, secure doors left open, overheating equipment, fires, and more. These can happen spontaneously, day or night, and the damage can be expensive to repair, time-consuming, and embarrassing — not to mention a real problem when the host has signed SLAs ensuring uptime and reliability.

Do most data centers address these data center security issues? Sure. Sensors and other static indicators should identify problems, as well as ongoing foot patrols and yet, reports of physical breaches and failures are reported around the world (or, because of the liability or embarrassment concerns, hushed up). Existing data center security services and tools for securing the physical facility clearly aren’t yet foolproof.

Upgraded, Reimagined Security with Robotic Drones 

Robotic drones provide a new, robust, extra layer of defense that enhances or replaces almost every one of the security and patrol systems and processes in place. A few examples:

Too many cameras, too many screens

The typical security headquarters at a large data center features a NASA-like wall of screens providing live imagery from dozens — or even hundreds — of cameras mounted throughout the facility. The weak point for safety and operations is obvious: someone has to be looking at all of these screens simultaneously, and the distraction from a quick conversation, phone call, or other activities in the room means that the team has affectively let their guard down. In addition, static cameras always have dead zones in areas that a savvy intruder can manage to avoid, and cannot spot temperature spikes or leaks — especially when out of the line of sight. 

Robotic Drones

Robotic drones, flying on comprehensive routes through the facility’s hallways and server rooms, move dynamically and unpredictably from the intruder’s perspective. And as discussed below, their asset inspection can scope out hiding places both of people and hard-to-find leaks or overheating equipment. Each security drone carries with it imagery of the “safe/stable” status quo and instantly alerts security when there is a deviation from what it expects to see, whether that aberration is human or mechanical.

The limits of ground-level foot patrols

A human security patrol making its way throughout the facility can only cover so much ground and cannot physically be in more than one place at a time. It also can’t see behind physical barriers like server racks, storage closets, or dark and out-of-the-way areas. These are the zones in which a human intruder or an environmental risk like water or fire can do damage for a long time before anyone realizes it. A fleet of robotic indoor surveillance drones can:

  • Fly literally around the clock without getting tired, requiring food or bathroom breaks;
  • Work weekends and holidays with no extra pay;
  • Make their way behind barriers and even detect thermal anomalies invisible to the naked eye.

An added factor that makes drones effective: Because most data centers feature high ceilings so that heat can rise in the event of a fire or overheated equipment, a drone can offer a true bird’s eye view from above.

On-demand virtual escort

Most data centers observe several strict policies requiring staff escorts depending on the trust level of individuals entering the facility; this combines some model of tiered security clearance, adapted of course to the particular areas of the facility under discussion. The requirement to physically escort guests is often challenging, taking staff away from other tasks and requiring complex scheduling by all parties. Often, the question of even requiring the escort is a gray area, making it all the more frustrating when the visitor has the inherent trust team, but the visit must nonetheless follow regulations. Using a robotic drone as a “virtual escort” to follow the individual and record their activities simplifies this decision as it can occur on demand, and does not require dedicated personnel to walk visitors from place to place — or stand by and wait while maintenance work is done by a contractor or client tech team.

On-demand virtual escort

In addition to outsider visitors, even a company’s own staff is technically considered a risk for confidential, proprietary, or sensitive areas. Whether for security, maintenance, or general workplace safety inspections, most clients & data center operators prefer zero human presence near their equipment and ideally would like to avoid having people enter restricted areas all together, a drone replacement solves the problem.

Rodent control

It’s hard to believe, but this is still a widespread in today’s day and age. For whatever reason, rodents are attracted to electric wiring and frequently gnaw their way through electrical and data cabling. This phenomenon is particularly frustrating because they are so quick moving that they scurry away as security guards approach, and thus remain undetected. In addition, they sometimes do their work in the most remote and out-of-the-way areas of a facility — especially in overhead cabling network channels hanging from the ceiling — and therefore evade detection until it’s too late. Because rats and mice are so small and move at ground level, cameras are often too distant or aimed too high to detect them. A drone can fly close to the ground, into remote areas, and spot these scurrying intruders effectively, and around the clock.

Yes, a fleet of inexpensive robotic drones offers substantial improvements in imaging effectiveness and physical coverage, as well as a cost-effective model that is both flexible and scalable. But there is one more exciting advantage that you get from indoor drone security: they serve as a kind of “time machine” that can help trace back the root causes of disasters to ensure they do not re-occur. Whether their recorded footage can pinpoint the moment a door was left open, a visitor did something unexpected, a generator began to overheat, or a leaky pipe trickled into and then flooded the room, their around-the-clock, comprehensive coverage offers a reliable historical record that no human patrol could possibly provide. And best yet, they can be managed and monitored remotely so that a security supervisor at home miles away can make critical decisions based on observing facts on the ground as they happen in real-time.

A New Age of Security and Control
To summarize: This is one of those more and more common cases where artificial intelligence and robotics can simply outperform humans, and the security community is quickly embracing this paradigm. Virtually without exception, all data centers take security seriously and deploy multiple layers of processes and equipment to ensure that their clients’ digital business assets are safe. Security surveillance drones are emerging as a compelling, cost-effective approach to both supplementing these systems and replacing those long understood to be imperfect or only partially effective.