A Larger Security Puzzle

A Larger Security Puzzle

Data center access control starts at the fence line

Ask any analyst what data is coming into or out of your data center and they’ll quickly pull up a dashboard showing packets flooding across their network. But, if you wanted to find out who has come and gone into the physical space where your server racks are, would you be able to do that?

Access control at the perimeter of a data center, power or telco facility is a security puzzle within a larger security puzzle that must be built to protect your company and its prized asset — it’s data. And like any puzzle, starting with the edge pieces is the best way to quickly understand what the full picture is.

There’s an axiom that good fences make for good neighbors. This is especially true when considering access control systems. They can deter social engineering hacks by keeping unwanted visitors away and prevent a different type of brute-force attack from people trying to access a facility. Fencing is a crucial component in keeping data secure.


Often, security fencing is overlooked until something happens that a sturdy fence might have prevented. Frequently, a building’s designer will choose the least expensive and most quickly installed option, which is usually a chain link fence. While chain link fences are inexpensive and quick to install, they are not a great option in high-security areas and have several disadvantages when compared to other types of fencing.

Easy to climb. The links in chain link fencing are perfectly sized to provide hand and footholds to most people. This means that even casual thieves might be tempted to make their way over the fence to look for something to steal.

Flimsy Against Intruders. Chain links are made of wire and can easily be cut by a cheap pair of wire cutters. This grants easy access to anyone looking to get into a facility without much planning or expense.

Industrial-looking. Chain link fencing is totally functional as a basic barrier and nothing more. It’s distinctly industrial-looking and has a strong association with crime because of its presence in high-crime areas and its use in the penal system.

Chain link manufacturers have offered add-ons to address some of these weaknesses, such as barbed or razor wire along the top of the fence to reduce the likelihood of somebody scaling the boundary. But unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to improve the aesthetics of the fence and may actually discourage customers from wanting to enter. A better option for a security fence is something both more attractive and heavy duty.


For data facilities that are looking to protect the occupants and contents, a fence that is classified as a high-security is a better option than the commonly seen razor wire-lined chain link fence. Several factors differentiate a standard fence from a high-security fence: the materials it is made from, the way those materials are assembled and the specific design features it offers.

For a fence to be considered a high-security option, the material that the primary components are manufactured from should be high-strength metals such as steel. Steel panels have several noticeable distinctions from the aluminum or wrought fencing commonly seen around homes or apartments.

They are heavier weight and generally have the vertical and horizontal components integrated, instead of individually attached pickets seen in a wrought iron fence. Since each panel is built from steel and attached to the rest of the fence, it is more difficult to cut or remove sections of the fence.

In addition, high-security fences are composed of pales rather than standard pickets. A pale is a roll-formed steel shape that is larger in size and gauge of steel, which creates a visual deterrence, as well as presents significant difficulties in cutting or accessing the property. Pales are typically spaced at 3 inches or 1 7/8 inches, along a C-channel rail. Pales also generally extend all the way to the ground, which adds structural stability and makes it more difficult for an intruder to crawl underneath. The rail is a second key component in a high security fence as its design is intended to not only withstand severe mid-span downforce but also to prevent climbing.


The materials and manufacturing process combine to give highsecurity fences anti-climb capabilities and the ability to integrate reinforcements.

Anti-climb is a function of two separate components: the shape of the rail and the spacing of the pales. The C-channel rail has a severely sloped upper side that is intended to inhibit a foot from fitting on top of the rail, which discourages climbing of the fence panel. Fences that are anti-climb are generally taller than normal fences — often more than eight feet tall. Additionally, the tops of the fences are curved, split or spear-shaped, which further discourages trespassers. Furthermore, the pales are spaced closer together with higher rails, which keeps the horizontal rails from being used as leverage.

This combination of tighter spacing of the pales, strong C-channel rails and high-strength steel also make it so that these fences can handle the weight of multiple people trying to breach them. But should a security fence need additional strength, builders can utilize a number of methods to reinforce the anchor points of a fence during installation. The Whole Building Design Guide specifies several methods for utilizing cement to secure the vertical pieces during installation.

Additionally, reinforcement methods such as a concrete deadman at strategic points and corners offer more integrated strength. Designers can also add a secondary fence for additional security.


When designing an access control system, the points of entry are a key component of the fence’s design and how it is installed. Designers should take into account the number of cycles of people and/or vehicles that will pass through a gate when deciding the best method for access control at a facility’s gates or entry points. Whether it’s cantilevered gates, bollards or crash barriers, numerous systems that are effective at controlling access and integrate into the broader design are available.

Many high-security fences have features engineered into their design that enable the integration of other security systems such as video monitoring, motion detection or badge scanners.

Some fencing manufacturers are able to add to increased security measures by building cable runs into the channels of the rails and pales so that cameras, badge scanner pads or RFID monitors can be installed. Physical cables can also be added on the back side of a high-security fence to harden the perimeter and add crash protection. Those cables are typically attached to the back rail through threaded inserts and placed inside the rails on the interior side of the fencing.

Other design best practices can be used to increase the security performance and access control abilities of a high-security fence. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) incorporates fencing and other building and environmental elements as part of their methods of reducing the chances of crime occurring.

According to CPTED best practices, building designers should avoid chain link fencing and razor-wire fence topping, as it communicates the absence of a physical presence and a reduced risk of being detected. Steel and aluminum security fencing easily integrates into most landscapes and can support the addition of other elements such as shrubbery as well, making it an ideal solution for these crucial areas.

Designing an effective access control system means bringing together numerous systems that are engineered to work together as a cohesive unit. But it starts at the fence line. Utilizing a steel fence that incorporates anti-climb and other access control features will help to create a safe and secure space for your employees and your data. Are your physical access control systems built to withstand the threats?

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.

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