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Google Touts Its Cloud Security, Energy-Saving Measures

On Friday, Google gave a rare look into how it locks down one of the datacenters in its global network.

The company outlined its security measures in a blog post and a YouTube video that shows the inside of a Google datacenter, an unusual occurrence for the company since it does not give public tours. The upshot of the demonstrations: If you're thinking of breaking into Google's datacenters to steal information, think again.

The physical security measures shown in Google's video include restricted access via fencing and checkpoints, badges that are difficult to forge, and even iris scans. In addition to humans scanning the perimeter using cameras located across the datacenter's grounds, there are also automated systems to help weed out the unwanted. Google uses other security methods that it did not disclose.

Would-be thieves can also forget about dumpster-diving to snag data, something that Paul Allen and Bill Gates used to do to DEC's trash in their early Micro-Soft days. Data stored on hard drives in Google's datacenter get wiped, then the hard drive is physically crushed before disposal. Google also uses a drive shredder that spits out chunks of mashed-up hard drives, which then are sent out as scrap for recycling.

Keeping the Cloud Green
Since Friday was Earth Day, there was discussion of power-saving issues associated with running datacenters. Google claims in the video that in 2009 it achieved the most stringent standards for datacenter power efficiency that were set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Google taps wind energy to power its datacenter in Oklahoma and has invested $350 million in other renewable energy projects, according to this Google blog.

Not to be outdone on Earth Day, Microsoft also continued its messaging that cloud computing use will actually save the planet's use of energy resources. A Microsoft blog floats the statistic that IT constitutes 2 percent of energy use worldwide. Cloud computing can help reduce the other 98 percent of energy use, Microsoft's blog contends. The blog does admit that cloud computing "comes with a serious energy and carbon cost," but it suggests that running applications through the cloud will save overall power consumption in the long run.

The environmental organization Greenpeace contends that most cloud computing companies, such as Google and Microsoft, simply use dirty energy derived from coal and nuclear sources. Greenpeace recently published a report titled "How Dirty Is Your Data" (PDF) that called on datacenter companies to be more transparent about their energy use and carbon footprints. The report gives Google an "F" and Microsoft a "C" on transparency.

Matt Rosoff at the Business Insider has noted that Facebook rolled out a new energy-efficient datacenter, but Facebook has been far more open than Google about the details. Facebook went open with its practices by establishing an Open Compute Project.

Cloud Security and the Feds
Certainly, Google and Microsoft aren't the only two cloud service providers on the planet, but they have been in the spotlight lately as they battle to win contracts at the federal level. Those battles -- which could open up massive customer-scale scenarios limited only by the size of government itself -- also involve security concerns. However, the security is wrapped around the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). FISMA is a kind of blueprint indicating what government agencies should do to ensure security on their systems.

After a public spat over FISMA certification and accreditation approvals, both Google and Microsoft are now entering a phase in which they will start providing cloud-based services to U.S. government agencies on a broad scale. Microsoft's datacenters, and now some of its cloud-based apps, have already received authorization to operate based on FISMA criteria.

Meanwhile, Google's cloud-based apps, called "Google Apps for Government," are getting reviewed for additional security controls. However, the government has basically indicated that they pass the FISMA test.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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