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DCD Magazine

Hardening High-Tech Hotels
By Wayne Hampton, CSI

With stealth-like secrecy fast-track fortresses are being built across the global landscape that have become the nerve center for the new economy. These "Tech Hotels" or Data Centers, as they are known, have become an integral and vital part of the global fiber-optic grid and wired world of telecommunications that experts now view them as the "factories" for the new age of information. The convergence of information and security has given rise to a whole new paradigm challenge for design professionals.

Current estimates are that there are well over 700 data centers spread out over 35 countries and accounting for more than 24 million square feet of leased space. By 2003 data centers should be hosting more than 40 million square feet of telecommunications and Web-hosting companies with revenues in excess of $20 billion. All of these data centers offer corporate Internet access, high security, web-hosting and e-commerce opportunity. Of paramount concern to the tenants in these centers is the question of "how much security is enough security?"

Cyber-crime, computer viruses and power interruptions cost businesses more than $1 trillion in 1999 in preventive maintenance, recovery, theft and unrealized revenue. 

Security is a big feature inside Telecom Hotels.In reality these tech hotels have become the global reserve banks holding the deposits of the new digital economy. The crown jewels secured in these fortresses are not diamonds, emeralds or rubies, but terabytes of information whose net worth in incalculable. Power system back-ups and multiple layers of electronic and physical security help to fortify these tech centers against unauthorized physical, visual or auditory access, ballistic assault (guns, bombs and missiles), power interruptions, fire, flood, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, electromagnetic impulse, and even dumpster diving.

Basic physical security components for most data centers include perimeter walls or fencing, armed-guard houses, bullet resistant walls, windows and doors, mantraps and even biometric scanners at multiple locations. Exterior skins for telco-hotels are typically of masonry constitution and recent trends are to construct the entire "bunker" out of 14-inch-thick steel reinforced concrete walls. The more vulnerable areas such as entrance foyers, pre-existing store fronts, and shipping-receiving points will have 1-hour fire rated barrier walls constructed with 18-gauge steel studs, expanded metal security mesh, and bullet resistant fiberglass panels finished with 5/8-inch sheetrock.

Total construction cost for most data centers is $250 to $600 a square foot, compared to $70 or $75 for a standard mid-rise office building. Data centers are usually one of three sizes: small (20-40K square feet), medium (60-80K square feet) and large (100K plus). The ability to attract tenants and generate revenues is in direct proportion to the level of security perceived or provided by the facility. Major trendsetters in the industry, Exodus, Qwest, Equinix, Digix, AT&T, PSINet Inc., 360 Communications and others boast the highest degree of security that would rival that of Fort Knox. Three to six month design-to-build out schedules have brought new meaning to the concept of fast-track construction.

Bullet Resistant Security Entrance.The latest model of data centers are completely hardened and secured facilities located in secret locations constructed of thick concrete walls and steel reinforced ceilings, and with no external glass or storefronts. Amenities include high ceilings, massive floor load capacities, redundancy of fiber-optic providers, extreme power supply capacity, major cooling systems, and state-of-the-art fire suppression systems that often do not use water. They must also be packed with racks for supporting all the collocation equipment necessary for long-distance carriers to interconnect with smaller ISPs (Internet Service Providers), and content providers can collocate to get easy access to network providers. A labyrinth of fiber-optic cables interconnect throughout the building allowing terabytes of data to be exchanged, generated, manipulated, stored and launched.

Manufacturers of ballistic-resistant panels, windows and doors have been ramping up production to keep up with the high demand brought on by the rapid growth of these tech-hotels. Bullet resistant fiberglass panels offer particular utility to these projects by providing additional structural integrity to load-bearing walls, ballistic shielding, and contributing to sound resistance, insulation value, and even as a forced entry deterrent. The panels are installed as 4 x 8 sheets on 18-gauge steel studs behind pre-existing storefronts or windows, in entrance foyers, and in vulnerable points such as shipping-receiving areas. All butt joints are backed up with 4-inch batten strips to ensure the ballistic resistive integrity of the assembly.

ArmorCore Bullet Resistant Panels awaiting shipment to the next Data Center.The average size data center will use between 50 to 200 sheets of the armoring panels depending on whether it is a pre-existing structure or a new construction project. Eight levels of ballistic protection in architectural armoring are established by the Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. standard known as the UL752 Standard for Bullet Resisting Equipment. Levels 1-4 provide protection from handguns while levels 5-8 are designed to defeat automatic weapons and high-powered rifles. Most of the data centers are opting for the higher levels of protection against rifle attacks such as a .30 caliber or a 7.62 mm rifle. Entrance foyer walls are commonly lined with a Level 3 panel that would defeat most handguns ranging from a 9mm to a 44 Magnum. The following table can be used to better understand, cost estimate, and specify bullet resistant panels for use in hardening high tech hotels.

Level 3,4,5

Weapon to


Panel Sizes


UL752 L-3


1/2" thick @ 5.0

4'x8' & 3'x8'


UL752 L-4

.30 Caliber

1-3/8" thick @
14.0 lbs/sq.ft.

4'x8' & 3'x8'


UL752 L-5

7.62 mm

1-3/8" thick @
14.0 lbs/sq.ft.

4'x8' & 3'x8'


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