Where lives were once saved has now become one of Europe's safest data centres
BY GERRIT REICHERT
A photo taken in 1944 shows a bombed-out wasteland. The west of Bremen is nothing but rubble, not a building or outline recognisable as far as the eye can see. The only exception: a high-rise bunker – in the centre of the ‘desert’ – undamaged, unaffected by the severest of air raids on the city of Bremen. At the time, the eight-storey high-rise bunker saved lives. Soon, it will be protecting people’s business interests, namely digital data. Bombproof, both then and now.
This bunker has never stayed empty. Due to its extraordinarily compact construction, it was actually recommissioned as a nuclear bunker several years after the end of World War II. Following the Cold War, it is now destined to provide protection in the current digital war. The most recent, global cyber attacks in particular have shown that companies are vulnerable and that there is a growing army of attackers insistent on damaging the lifeblood of our economy. In Germany, security, especially data security, has become the most important digital parameter among corporate decision makers. However, more than two-thirds of German companies, 83 percent, only entrust their data to their own data centres, or to whatever might pass as in-house data facilities, because these are often just storage rooms, with barely enough space for a couple of servers. But what happens in the event of vandalism, break-in, fire, accidents, lightning strikes, power cuts or flooding, for example? Only very few of the estimated 50,000 German data centres have a reassuring answer to this question, one which guarantees data security. To this end, it is hardly surprising that as Europe’s leading data centre market, Germany assumes only a mid-table data security ranking within the global ‘Data Centre Risk Map’. Playing with fire seems to be an expensive affair. A survey conducted among 63 data centres last year determined average costs of 740,000 Dollars per outage, something that is generally not talked about. It is, however, a topic in the United Kingdom, where 537 outages were caused by power cuts in 2013.
This was the year in which Managing Partner of Bremen-based Consultix GmbH, Andres Dickehut, set about looking at the topic of data centres through the eyes of an engineer: he comments that “Bremen is, of course, not the spiritual home of German data centres. The major centres are located above all in Frankfurt, the Ruhr region, Munich, Hamburg and Berlin.” However, he did at the time notice that Bremen is the region with the fewest incidents of lightning strikes in Germany. This piqued the engineer’s interest so much so that he decided to build a data centre with unique security parameters such as those clearly present in Bremen. The build ultimately underwent a two-year refurbishment following the acquisition of the high-rise, and then nuclear, bunker in Bremen’s west end. The objective: absolute physical and digital security for all data. Andres Dickehut calls this the ‘onion skin principle’. The outer skins include a security fence, while the bunker within features two metre-thick exterior walls and ceilings as well as five metre-thick foundations. Sophisticated security technology accompanies the visitor at all times. This starts with a detector sluice and CCTV monitoring, with several hundred cameras throughout the facility. Then there are the doors, special high-security doors, which can only be opened from outside by means of three-stage authentication using code, chip and biometric identification. And it is a system of doors: half a dozen need to be opened in each case to reach one of the five data levels in the first place. These are hermetically screened. No windows, no radio, no electromagnetic waves – nothing. Systematic oxygen reduction prevents open fire anywhere within the IT rooms. Each storey is an independent data centre with an autonomous power supply and mirrored room; in other words, each rack is duplicated in a second room on the same storey, which makes the system completely independent in the event of potential maintenance work. Instead of the cables so frequently present in other data centres, flexible, non-flammable metal power track systems have been installed. The cooling concept was presented with the German Data Centre Award before actually being commissioned. No lightning, no act of nature or man and no material risk inside can disturb the silence within the bunker. With a content expression, Andres Dickehut points at the rod assembly of the all-round lightning conductor on the roof, the starting point of his original considerations: “Our lightning protection corresponds to Class 0, a standard otherwise only seen in hospitals and with sensitive infrastructures”, he says.
Andres Dickehut set up a second company, ColocationIX, to operate the high-rise bunker as a data centre. Extending to over 2,500 square metres, ColocationIX is a medium-sized data centre, one of only 280 in Germany (as of 2013). The physical, external security is supported by digital security within the bunker network and therefore the racks. By means of fibre optics, ColocationIX is directly linked, via the world’s largest Internet exchanges DECIX, AMSIX, and LINX with the shortest latencies – to China, for example – and the shortest AS path length. Security services such as intrusion prevention, DDos or remotely triggered black holing (RTBH) make ColocationIX de facto impregnable. Andres Dickehut and approximately 100 Consultix employees have been on the winning side of the digital defence battle for many years now. Their ProCampaign marketing module, with more than 100 million address data managed, is a highly respected product in over 50 countries worldwide, particularly among marketing decision makers. Probably because, as the only German marketing software, it has twice received the European EuroPriSe data protection seal of approval, and has had its compliance with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation officially confirmed.
But Consultix simultaneously ensures digital unassailability: “We estimate several thousands of attacks worldwide every day”, states Andres Dickehut, “although none has been able to get past our defence systems since 2000.” This is the digital competence with which the ColocationIX onion skin principle of outer and inner security offers flawless protection. Until the final opening of the data bunker at the end of October, the data centre will be subjected to an ISO 27001 audit. “The former Federal Government nuclear bunker has been built as a Tier 4/Class 4 construct and is therefore one of Germany’s, and quite possibly Europe’s, most secure data centres”, comments Andres Dickehut self-confidently. This will be music particularly to the ears of German corporations and companies of all sizes. Because many are increasingly opting to use private rather than public cloud solutions, as breakdowns and lack of service competence among the majors are hotly-debated topics. According to a current survey, the typical German decision maker wants ‘to have faith in the provider’, ‘an excellent price-performance ratio’ and ‘technological know-how’. Security concerns are by far the greatest obstacle. Because ColocationIX is probably more bombproof than any other German data centre, the former high-rise and nuclear bunker in Bremen’s west end will soon be embarking on its third successful ‘career’ – namely using security to protect digital data as an elementary human asset against unauthorised access.
Consultix works for world brands in more than 90 countries. The flagship is the secure Customer Engagement Hub ProCampaign®. The SaaS solution integrates digital marketing, customer lifecycle management, eCRM and e-commerce for precise and effective marketing campaigns.Consultix GmbH
Picture credit © Imperial War Museums (CL3259)