Integrating Physical Security at the Rack Level Inside the Data Center

December 1, 2016 Rachel Pilgren-Kane

Integrated electronic access solutions can be combined with building access control and monitoring systems to incorporate cabinet level access control.

Steve Spatig, General Manager, Electronic Access Solutions, Southco, Inc.

As strict enforcement of data protection regulations continues, data centers require an increased level of physical security in order to ensure full compliance and avoid costly penalties. Protecting assets within the data center is a crucial aspect of the overall security system, from perimeter security down to the rack level.

Physical security is critical to the protection of electronics and telecommunications enclosures. Many data centers focus security efforts on access control to the grounds, the buildings and the secure areas within. Once inside the building however, there is often minimal physical security in place to prevent unauthorized access to the enclosures that store valuable equipment and data.

Intelligent electronic locks offer an extra layer of access to existing physical security solutions when integrated into datacom enclosures. When combined with a building’s existing security system, rack level electronic locks create one cohesive security network can be used across the data center to control access.

Extending Physical Security from Perimeter to Enclosure

Data center security systems generally focus on physical access to the perimeter, building and server room entrances. Entry to the grounds and buildings are monitored and recorded, and once inside, access to the server room is restricted to a set number of individuals who must verify their identities with designated RFID cards or biometrics.

Within this typical security framework, there is one aspect that is often overlooked  – the security measures taken once an individual enters the server room. For complete physical security, server enclosures require the same level of physical security used to control access to the data center. Verifying credentials at the rack level can prevent costly data breaches and compliance penalties, especially for co-location centers housing many cabinets that store data for multiple organizations.

Electronic access solutions work with existing user credentials to keep server racks secure and offer access reporting options. A complete solution, which includes an access control or input device, an electromechanical lock or latch and remote monitoring capabilities, can connect building security and rack level access though a simplified, flexible platform.

Intelligent electronic locks are a key element of an electronic access solution, restricting access through the validation of user credentials. Selecting the appropriate intelligent locking device is vital to overall operation, as the entire security system is dependent upon the lock’s function. Optimum intelligent locking solutions not only require the appropriate electronic signal to operate, but also provide critical output signals for remotely monitoring the security of the enclosure.

Electronic locks like the H3-EM Electronic Swinghandle with Integrated Prox Reader provide keyless access and enhanced security for data center enclosures.

The access controller, or user interface, validates the user credential and provides the appropriate signal to enable access to the cabinet. Electronic locks can be integrated with a variety of access control devices depending on the level of protection needed and the requirements of the application. Digital keypads and RFID proximity card readers for instance, can be used with an electronic lock, as can biometric readers and electronic key systems. Upon actuation, a digital record of activity can be created and archived for future audit trail reporting. Visual indicators or audible alarms should also be provided for local alerts.

Integrating Electronic Access into Security Systems

When selecting an electronic access solution for rack level access, the requirements and capabilities of the data center’s existing security system or infrastructure must be evaluated to ensure seamless integration. Depending on the needs of the system, electronic access solutions can range from a simple switch to a more advanced software-based, networked access control system. For example:

  • Self-Contained Solutions  are generally battery operated and offer simple, drop-in installation and programming to provide integrated access control and electronic locking in a single self-contained device. These devices provide a simplified solution to eliminate key management issues.
  • Standalone Solutions offer basic plug-and-play access control without the need for software or network administration, but do not provide remote, networked monitoring and control.
  • Integrated Solutions can be combined with building access control and monitoring systems to incorporate cabinet level access control into existing security systems.
  • Independent Networked Solutions can be used to monitor and manage rack access across networks from a host computer for remote system configuration, access control and the monitoring of multiple access points. These systems can operate independently of existing building security systems.

Incorporating electronic locks at the rack level enables a variety of innovative access control technologies such as wireless, IP based solutions, sophisticated biometric reader systems and convenient wireless RF based solutions such as NFC and Bluetooth.

In addition to the system integration options rack level electronic access solutions provide, the ability to customize access control allows existing security infrastructure to be easily updated with minimal disruption to existing systems. For example, ID badges that are connected to a proximity card system for building access can also be used to establish access privileges across applications, and extend access control down to the cabinet level.


Security of confidential data and compliance with regulatory requirements continues to be a top priority for data centers. Electronic access solutions provide enhanced security for cabinet access and work together with established user credentials and user interfaces, offering many options for integration into existing data center security systems. Incorporating electronic access control into server enclosures enables data centers to address the increasing need for physical security at the rack level, providing one unified security system across the facility. 

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