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Why considered outdoor solutions are critical

It goes without saying that data centres hold sensitive or proprietary information, including customer data and intellectual property, which means both digital and physical security of the site is pivotal.

Physical security of a data centre can comprise of various kinds of built-in safety and security features to protect the premises and thereby the data stored within it. Site safety and security starts from the outside, and is already considered at planning stages, where some of the initial considerations are location selection and authenticated personnel access points

Physical security is equally as important to the smooth operation and protection of assets of any data centre, anywhere in the world. How we approach and integrate outdoor lighting solutions is therefore a fundamental layer in the security infrastructure. 

In this article, Thorn’s Head of Application Eliot Horsman explores the value that well considered outdoor lighting can add to a data centre and how it can enhance security and day to day operations.

When we look at the topic of cyber security architecture, the National Cyber Security Centre outlines five key principles to help ensure that networks and technologies are designed and built securely.

These are:

  1. Establish the context
  2. Making compromise difficult
  3. Making disruption difficult
  4. Making compromise detection easier
  5. Reducing the impact of compromise.

These five key principles of cyber architecture transfer across to the critical layers of defining the right outdoor lighting solution for a data centre and in terms of the physical architecture of the space. Allow us to expand on this.

1. Establish the context

For outdoor lighting solutions, to establish the context is to determine and understand the environment in which a data centre is located and how this correlates to its surroundings.

Light pollution and the impact that artificial light can have on neighbouring residents and the natural ecosystems of plant and nocturnal animal life is a huge focus. Building Regulations across the globe are changing to ensure a reduction in light pollution which takes many forms, from light spill, light trespass and sky glow. Flooding a data centre’s outdoor environment - building surrounds, pathways, car parks etc, with light to give a clear view for surveillance and security systems is not a viable solution from a sustainability or energy cost perspective.

Regulations to limit light pollution can be used to the advantage of a data centre, beyond the benefits to human wellbeing, ecology systems and reduction of energy costs.

As high security critical environments, data centres must not stand out in their surroundings as a beacon to onlookers. Maintaining a low key presence in the built environment is paramount.

In addition, both humans and ecology systems rely on periods of darkness to thrive.

Lower lighting levels and warmer white light are proven to be beneficial to both human wellbeing and ecology, where artificial light is needed.

Innovations in advanced lighting technologies, such as Thorn’s NightTune and Variable Light Technology, illuminate the required area and gradually warm in colour to a more ecologically sensitive warm white light. 

As the light colour changes over time, these technologies also allow gradual reductions in light levels during periods of low activity, reducing energy costs and allowing the site to blend into the environment, creating an ecology sensitive advanced lighting solution.

2. Making compromise difficult

Limiting entry points is an effective way to enhance data centre security. 

Alongside this, multi-factor authentication prior to allowing a person’s entry, introduces security systems which often rely on facial recognition.

This could be for security personnel to verify against a photo I.D. or automated facial recognition. Being able to determine the details of a person’s face requires high quality colour rendition from the outdoor lighting to create a clear and accurate representation.

When a data centre’s outdoor entry points are lit, lighting is typically installed above.

For example, when you drive down a road with street lights that are in operation, your eyes can detect obstacles such as cars moving, not because the cars are lit but because the cars are in shadow and in contrast to the well-lit horizontal road surface.

For optimum operation and so that facial recognition is not impeded, to fully determine the details of a person’s face we must also consider vertical illuminance. 

Only by using the latest LED lens technology to ensure the right light in the right place and plane can we accurately represent facial recognition and enhance security and surveillance systems in place to protect data centre assets.

3. Making disruption difficult

Independent research studies tell us that well integrated lighting installations, sympathetic to their outdoor environment, can improve people’s perception of safety during the hours of darkness.

On the contrary, lighting can also be an incredibly valuable method of deterrent to those that seek to disrupt a data centre.

This does not mean that the outdoor environment of a data centre should be over lit – indeed, too much light can cause glare, making it more difficult for the human eye to adjust to low light conditions. It can also cause glare for visual surveillance systems, giving an unclear view of any disruption.

Creating the lighting design alongside and hand in hand with the design of security systems is key to ensuring that outdoor lighting supports those security systems and includes the right light quality for optimum operation.

Well considered lighting installations aid in the perception of safety that staff and visitors have when navigating through the outdoor environment of a data centre. Using different lighting techniques and adding layers of light results in better wayfinding, ease of activity and a more comfortable feeling of safety.

Considering light as a deterrent, lighting around the outer perimeter of a facility is often a useful method to deter anyone seeking to disrupt the data centre facility. Unlit sections of the outer perimeter and building surrounds are viewed as gaps in the security infrastructure and are proven to be the focus access points for criminals. The key here is to avoid breaks in the layers of security created by lighting and use the correct luminaires and controls while respecting dark sky requirements for limiting light pollution.

4. Making compromise detection easier

 For the outdoor lighting system of a data centre, smart control technology can act as an additional layer to the installed security systems.

 As we saw earlier, to protect the night time environment and reduce energy costs, ideally the outdoor lighting would be dimmed and the space illuminated in a warmer white.

If we add a further layer into this solution – smart controls - any movement within the lighting scheme can be detected and activate the lighting to a higher level of brightness and more neutral colour of white light. A clear visual highlight to security systems and security personnel of any movement activity on site. A great example of using technology to achieve a sustainable solution that acts as an aid to surveillance systems.

Smart lighting control can monitor each individual light point, with secure remote access from anywhere in the world, to see what the operation of the luminaire is, and take a full lighting asset management view at any period of time. A fundamental part of a strong data centre security system.

5. Reducing the impact of compromise

This obviously has a specific meaning for cyber security, but for outdoor lighting around the site of a data centre, we can interpret this as the need for emergency lighting outdoors.

If there is a compromise of power supply to the facility, Building Regulations require lighting to operate in emergency mode to ensure that the means of escape can be safely and effectively used at all material times.

This is where local or central battery supplies to the luminaires allow the fittings to operate at a reduced light output, if the normal operation fails.

We often see emergency lighting as an indoor only requirement – to be able to navigate out of the building, away from danger.

However, emergency lighting in the outdoor environment is also required so that occupants can navigate away from the building to a determined location point, often signed as a fire point.

There are three primary elements to this:

  1. Emergency lighting for wayfinding – a clearly visible illuminated route to safety
  2. Emergency lighting at changes of direction - there can be no ambiguity for users in an emergency situation at pathway intersections
  3. Emergency lighting at changes of level – in an emergency situation, risk assessments consistently identify that even a single stair tread can cause incident and delay in people reaching the designated areas of safety.

Integrated emergency lighting throughout the outdoor lighting installation reduces risk to occupants in an emergency situation. 

So to summarise: every data centre has a unique set of needs, dependant on its architecture, location, scale and security systems.

However, the outcome needed from data centre outdoor lighting is always the same.

Outdoor lighting needs to be an aid to security and surveillance systems and play an active role in asset protection, personnel safety, operating at minimal energy costs whilst following light pollution and emergency lighting regulations. Bringing together these often opposing requirements is now possible by tailoring a specific combination of products, smart controls, lighting technology and lens technology to create a best in class solution.

Engaging with a lighting specialist partner on your project as early as possible in the development and construction process is key, so that at every stage, the outdoor lighting solution has been considered and properly integrated into your data centre.

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