I’ve just returned from a meeting in Washington, DC in which we were assessing training material for certification on the new BICSI data center design best practices. Along with the fact that I’ve been approached lately with a number of site security assessment requests, it was interesting to review the guidance on data center location.
We have discussed data center location guidelines in this forum before, and with BICSI-002’s alignment with TIA-942, the contribution has been to bring guidance into a contemporary framework. We bring this up again because while such guidance for mission critical facility location with respect to environmental and human threats has been on the shelf for a long time, chances are very good that your data center is not in good standing with respect to these location guidelines.
For the record, we’ll run through the general list of property adjacencies that contribute risk to the site, in concentric fashion beginning with the closest proximity to the site.
- 100 yards: At least one hundred yards from a one hundred year flood plane
- 1 mile: At least one mile from coastal or inland waterways, highways or major traffic arteries, commercial railways, water storage towers, public utility substations, high voltage power distribution lines, self-storage facilities, auto body or paint shops, gas stations
- 2 miles: At least two miles from landfills, quarries, dumps, interstate highways, municipal water or sewage plants, stockyards or feed lots, lakes, dams, or reservoirs
- 3 miles: At least three miles from radio or TV stations or transmitters, weather radar installations, research laboratories, or embassies
- 5 miles: At least five miles from commercial airports, fossil fuel plants, chemical or fertilizer plants, grain elevators, tank farms, foundries or other “smokestack” industry operations
I’d be willing to bet that your facility violates at least a handful of these risk elements. If you have found a location that satisfies this entire guideline, then you’re probably using a prisoner work force because you’re in the middle of nowhere and are waiting years for fiber.
The pragmatic backdrop to this picture is that demands for a location that has good fiber access, proximity to a particular metro area or market, availability of real estate, and so on are business factors that are a part of the decision process just as much as these risk factors. The decision to locate a mission critical facility at a given site is done in the context of a risk assessment. A risk assessment is a part of the overall governance and risk management framework of the business, and will take into account the degree of exposure (often quantified in terms of dollars) that results from those risks. The applicable risks can be accepted (aka, rolling the dice), transferred (eg, insurance), or ignored (the opposite of due diligence).
If you’ve been following other standards, such as TIA-942, you’ll notice a few changes to the environmental risk list. Let’s touch upon a few of these.
The first notable item on the list is self storage facilities. Self storage facilities are a new feature on the urban and suburban landscape over the past decade, and the proliferation of these facilities seems to be expanding. Why should the mission critical facility be at least one mile from one of these? Well, basically because we have no idea what a person has stored in one of these, and chances that there is something that will in some way limit access to our own site are not at all remote. There are few if any effective controls over what a person can store in one of these buildings.
Auto body and paint shops are another addition. The justification for this is that very flammable and caustic substances are used at these businesses. I can’t say that I can remember an event for which an auto body or paint shop was the root cause, but I can’t argue with the rationale either.
What threat to a mission critical facility is posed by a stockyard or feedlot? Stampedes? Not really. However, in recent history we’ve seen areas surrounding livestock yards quarantined because of disease (remember mad cow). If this happens in reasonable proximity to our data center or call center, then no one is getting close to that building for a long time. This is a very valid measure for our times. The Research Lab factor is similar in nature.
How about embassies? US embassies in particular, seem to be magnets for unrest and violence. This is not something that should be near our mission critical facility.
Television, radio, and weather transmission stations are on the list because of potential EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference) issues. Higher power versions of this are certainly an issue for today’s high frequency electronics.
The five-mile radius factors will, I think, make good sense to most everyone. In fact, I’d think we’d place our site much farther than five miles from these types of facilities. The exception one may take is regarding the grain elevators. Grain elevators were at one time a large explosion risk, but recent controls over these facilities has done much to improve the situation.