by Constantine von Hoffman

Visa’s Data Center Security Includes a Moat (Seriously)

Mar 29, 20123 mins
Data and Information SecurityIntrusion Detection SoftwarePhysical Security

Visa's amazing physical security may have been inspired by Wile E. Coyote.

It’s no surprise that Visa, the world’s largest credit card company, takes data protection very seriously. Its new data center, located “somewhere on the eastern seaboard,” has an amazing set of virtual and physical security measures, including a moat.


A moat??? Are those Vikings from the Capital One ads about to come thundering out of the bushes to see what Visa has in its wallet?

Two reports on the new data center really do make it sound quite impressive–and also like Wile E. “Super Genius” Coyote was involved in the design.

Visa says (and I believe them) the center can withstand earthquakes and hurricane-force winds of up to 170 mph; has a 1.5-million-gallon storage tank to cool the system; and has onsite diesel generators that can produce enough electricity for 25,000 households and keep the center supplied with power for nine days. It has been rated a “Tier 4” center by data center research organization Uptime Institute, and every mainframe, air conditioner and battery has a backup.

Considering the billions of dollars in transactions Visa handles this all sounds quite reasonable. If only the Japanese had done as well by their nuclear reactors.

USAToday tells us, “The 8-acre facility looks like any other industrial park in a sleepy suburb. … The data center resembles a fortress.” Huh? Either it looks like any other office park OR like a fortress or office parks have gotten a lot cooler and I missed it.

The exterior security is where we get into Acme Manufacturing territory, though. Fast Company reports,

Hydraulic bollards lurk beneath the road outside the [center], which can rise fast enough to stop an intruding car going 50 miles per hour. If the car exceeds that, it won’t be able to make a vicious hairpin turn built into the road and will then careen into a drainage pond, a modern-day moat.

A bollard is a pole or pillar, like you didn’t already know. The moat is a nice touch, but let’s be honest, moats haven’t really deterred invaders since the invention of air power. (While the word “moat” does bring to mind images of dragons and alligators, under no circumstances should female employees be referred to as maidens or princesses. However I suspect a friendly “your majesty” would probably go over well, provided it was accompanied by coffee and a muffin.)

 The security doesn’t end there, of course.

Invited guests who pass the gauntlet have their photo and right index fingerprint encoded on a badge. Entering the data center means first passing a “mantrap” portal. With the doors locked on either side, you put your badge on a reader that compares it with the real you for a few seconds. Next, you put the badge on another reader and then put your finger on a fingerprint detector.

Look, Fast Co., if you’re going to use moat and bollard then you might as well get the rest of the nomenclature right. Instead of “mantrap,” go with barbican. I suspect there are some portcullises involved here as well.


I tip my horned-helmet to Visa and acknowledge its expertise. I wouldn’t attack that place–and I own a working trebuchette