Securing Your Storage Assets


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Storage equipment can be pricey. And the data it holds is priceless. That's why so much attention is placed on security via firewalls, intrusion attention and AV. But this emphasis on IT security often masks a gaping hole that is waiting to be exploited — physical and environmental security.

People can stroll into the data center and walk off with your equipment. Humidity and temperature fluctuations can ruin equipment. And water damage will leak through any firewall.

Case in point: a large hospital in the Midwest. The hospital basement, sited in a flood zone, hosted 166 servers and a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN. The FC SAN consisted of EMC Clariion boxes (3 TB) along with Brocade switches. One floor above the data center were six hot tubs, each containing 1,000 gallons of water. To make matters worse, Exchange Server storage requirements for e-mail alone were increasing at a rate of 40% a year.

"We were running out of space in the hospital basement for the data center and we badly needed a disaster recovery site," says the hospital CTO.

A failure with three days of downtime, plus the potential threat from water damage, led to the establishment of a second data center for failover. This time, though, it was sited outside a flood zone.

But you don't necessarily have to take on the huge expense of a parallel storage environment to improve physical security. One of the cheapest ways, in fact, is the purchase and installation of a set of environmental sensors. They can be used inside server rooms, data centers, and wiring closets to monitor water, temperature, humidity, airflow, voltage and dry contact. If a preset threshold is exceeded, users are notified. Say a server room or rack enclosure is tampered with. Or a device overheats. Or a room or device experiences a loss of airflow or water leakage. Alarms automatically go out by e-mail, SMS and/or SNMP trap.

When it comes to selecting sensors, a simple rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Since the idea is to keep costs down, avoid bells and whistles and stick to obvious benefits. You can spend thousands on top-of-the-line sensors to monitor dozens of factors, yet you may be able to get away with a couple of hundred dollars per sensor if you stick to the basics of temperature and humidity. If you need more functionality, add it. But only if you really need it.

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