Ein Lift führt vom Zugangsgebäude 30 Meter in die Tiefe. Dort eröffnet sich ein langer Gang im Fels.
© David Kotrba


High Security: Kapsch Stores Data in a Mountain

Strict entry checks, multiple surveillance systems, redundant connections to high-speed networks and an independent energy supply: with such security and back-ups, Kapsch BusinessCom offers a very safe environment for highly sensitive data. Futurezone had a rare chance to get an insight into the earthDATAsafe of Austrian ICT-service-providers, a computing centre deep in the mountain, protected from environmental hazards. Data from the electronic cash provider Paylive as well as client data of the Volksbanken group are stored here. The earthDataSafe is not only a data storage facility but virtually a data cloud in the mountain.

As a private cloud provider Kapsch BusinessCom stores data from companies which outsource their information and communication technology (ICT) needs in order to save costs. This flexible outsourcing of ITC-infrastructure means that scalable services can be offered, which are extendable on request. Furthermore, data has to be accessible everywhere and saved redundantly. In contrast to other providers of cloud computing who save data on servers which are far away from each other, the advantage of this system is that `at the earthDATAsafe we know immediately where the data can be found`, Jochen Borenich, CEO of Kapsch-BusinessCom, points out.

From Nazi Plant to Data Centre
The earthDATAsafe has been built into a tunnel system which was used as a factory for gearboxes between 1943 and 1945 by the former Nazi regime. In total the tunnels are 900m long and reach up to 320m into the mountain. The tunnels, which are about the size of a normal road tunnel, have a floor area of 4000 m2. The design of the tubes shows their dark past. The main tunnel does not lead straight into the mountain but has kink after only a few meters; a safety precaution so that tanks could not fire directly into the production facility. In 2002 Daimler-Chrysler began to turn the tunnels into a data centre. After this project ran into financial difficulties Kapsch took over the facility in 2008.

Multiple Access Checks
On the surface you can recognise the earthDATAsafe because of a large dome built on stilts looming out of the forest next to Semmering Highway. It looks a little like an UFO with its round hatches. Behind an automatic door you are watched by cameras and only if you are accompanied by a Kapsch employee and are signed in  can you get behind the bullet-proof door to enter the control station which is busy around the clock. The dome itself is a kind of balloon, which is kept in shape above the entrance building by air pressure. If you want to pass further into the facility you must have a form of identity and be subjected to security checks.

Once past the entrance building an lift leads 30 m down into the storage facility itself. Below, you are guided through partially-lit corridors on the ceilings of which small stalactites have formed. The tunnel system has two emergency exits besides the main lift entrance. Behind one of them there is a generator which provides power in the case of a blackout. To ensure an uninterrupted electricity supply, batteries are used which are kept topped up by the power grid. Thick bundles of wires lead along the ceilings of the subterranean corridors, it is these that connect the earthDATAsafe to the internet via both glass-fibre and copper cables.

Security Training
Behind doors with huge letters on them are a series of shorter tunnels. Kapsch built big server cells into them. They include computers, data storage and network infrastructures. Each file is mirrored in the data centre and stored in multiple cells at the same time. This cell structure was designed to enhance security in the case of fire. You can also see thick tubes with funnel smoke outside as well as highly sensitive fire detectors and extinguishing systems. There have never been used but monthly training sessions prepare the staff for what to do in the case of emergency.

The earthDATAsafe is well-prepared for even the most catastrophic events. With current stockpiles of fuel the data centre is able to stay working for up to five days without an external power supply. A fuel depot is nearby should longer periods have to be bridged. Besides physical threats to the system, there are also measures in place to fight off electronic attacks. The four-level firewall system has not been cracked yet. There are permanent checks on, for example, so-called friendly attacks. Less friendly attempts to attack the system happen every day.

Extendable Concept
At the moment the server farm is working at 60 percent of its capacity: six server cells are in operation in the subterranean tunnels. However, there is enough space for a total of 15. The server farm in the mountain could also be extended on the surface. For key customers Kapsch offers the option of building another dome, with an own control centre and conference rooms.

At the moment there is no comparable facility to the earthDATAsafe in Austria, and Europe-wide it is part of an elite group. Other subterranean data storage centres can be found in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, and outside of those countries only military organisations have such well-protected IT infrastructures.

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David Kotrba

Ich beschäftige mich großteils mit den Themen Mobilität, Klimawandel, Energie, Raumfahrt und Astronomie. Hie und da geht es aber auch in eine ganz andere Richtung.

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David Kotrba