7 best practices in data centre cages

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Don’t let cages be the weak link in your security chain.

When you need to partition a secure area within the whitespace, cages provide a flexible and affordable way to get the job done. However, like anything in the data centre, a little forethought and planning can make the difference between a great solution and a gong show. We have seen plenty of examples of each over the years, and in this blog post we share the lessons learned along the way.

  1. Find out your obligations.

Depending on the equipment and data being stored in the secure area, you may be subject to a number of security standards, such as SSAE 16, HIPAA, PCI, or SOC2.

In some cases, the legislation provides specific guidelines on how sensitive data should be secured, so make sure you are familiar with all of your obligations before planning your cage system.

  1. Use cages specifically designed for the data centre.

With cages, it is tempting to save a bit of money and use chain-link fencing or standard construction fencing. We’ve seen many attempts to pull this off, and none of them could be considered a success.

There are many reasons to steer clear of these “make do” approaches, but the biggest reason is that what you save in costs, you end up paying for in wasted time trying to get the cages to do what they were never intended to do. You’ll spend your time figuring out how to get the cage to wrap around a corner, or trying in vain to affix a card reader to a flimsy wire grid.

Cages that have been purpose built for the data centre will save you a lot of hassle.

  1. Check the size of the holes in the cage material.

OK, so you’ve put some caging around your most sensitive storage racks. Nobody can get in without a key, so it’s secure, right?

Well, what would happen if someone attached a network cable to a coat hanger and slid it through one of the holes in the cage? With a little patience and persistence, they could easily network straight into the equipment.

Unfortunately, many of the data centre cages on the market have huge holes that don’t take into account this obvious form of entry. The best practice is to deploy cages with openings smaller than an RJ45 connector, which reduces this type of risk.

  1. Make the cage hard to disassemble.

Another “Achilles heel” of many cage systems is the fact that they can be breached by anyone with an adjustable wrench. Simply reach your hand in, loosen a few bolts, and voila – an entire section of cage can be removed.

If you are concerned about complying with security standards, exposed bolts are a non-starter.

Some cage systems offer no way to hide exposed bolts, which leaves you with yet another problem to solve after you’ve installed your cages. Be sure to choose a cage solution that hides all the bolts so that it can not be disassembled from the outside.

  1. Think about the ceilings and floors…

As you may have guessed, no scenario goes unexplored by the folks that come up with security standards. When designing your cage system, you have to take a long look up – and down.

Could someone breach your partition by simply removing a ceiling tile and climbing over the cage? Or by removing a floor tile and crawling underneath? If so, then these scenarios must be addressed if you want to achieve compliance.

Some cage providers offer ceiling solutions that make it relatively easy to enclose the top of the cage. However, to prevent access underneath the raised floor, you may have to create custom fencing or barricades. It’s not easy, but it can be done with some advanced planning and a bit of creativity.

The key is to look at the partition from all angles and be sure you’ve closed off every possible point of entry.

  1. … and think about the doors.

Surprisingly, there is a lot to consider when planning the entrance to your cages. First, there is the question of a swinging doors versus sliding doors. Some cage systems can’t accommodate sliding doors, which forces you to clear a lot of space around the entrance in order for the door to swing. Then, in order to comply with accessibility standards for staff in wheelchairs, you may have to allow an additional three feet or more on top of that. In dense whitespaces where square footage is at a premium, these seemingly small details can add up to a costly problem, so again, make sure you plan ahead.

Another critical consideration is how you want the door and locking system to behave. Will the door close automatically? Will it lock automatically, or is it only lockable from the outside? Unless you plan these behaviours carefully you could end up with some undesirable results. For example, if your staff can’t lock the door from the inside, they could be forced to leave it open for long periods while working in the “secure” area. Try explaining that one!

  1. Aesthetics matter.

We’ll leave you with a final point to ponder.

Chances are you’ve spent a lot of money on sophisticated security software and equipment. You’ve installed state-of-the-art security cameras and entry systems. You’ve put stringent security protocols and processes in place.

All of this is sure to impress your clients on their next tour of your facility.

However, what will they think when they look at your partition and see an amateur patchwork of galvanized steel construction fencing?

Obviously it’s a huge letdown that can cast doubt on your whole approach to security.

In fact, we know of facilities that went with “cheaper” caging and were forced to rip it out later and replace it with a more professional-looking solution. This shows how important aesthetics are in a competitive marketplace. Keep this in mind as you plan your cage solution!

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