Although auditing and regulatory requirements are not typically a thrilling topic, it is crucial to recognize the significance of data center auditing in today’s fast-paced regulatory and compliance environment. With recent developments in the industry, there is a valid reason to get excited about data center auditing. The rules and regulations that govern data centers are undergoing changes, and stakeholders must stay vigilant to stay compliant with the various industry and regulatory standards. Remaining up-to-date with these changes and promptly addressing them is vital to ensuring compliance with the auditing standards that data centers must meet.
Data center auditing overview
Data center auditing procedures fall into two main categories:
- Audits that data center operators voluntarily perform to help optimize cost, performance, security, and other priorities.
- Audits that are required by regulations or industry standards.
Market-driven data center auditing
The first category consists of audits that are subjective and vary widely from one data center to another. They address:
- Increased emphasis on security: With the rise of cyber threats and data breaches, security has become a top priority in data center auditing. Auditors are now paying more attention to security controls, access controls, and risk management processes.
- Automation and AI: Auditing processes are becoming more automated, with the use of tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These tools can help auditors analyze large amounts of data more efficiently and identify potential issues more quickly.
- Focus on environmental sustainability: As the impact of data centers on the environment becomes more apparent, auditors are increasingly looking at energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in data center audits.
- Third-party risk management: Auditors are also paying more attention to the risks associated with third-party vendors and suppliers, such as cloud service providers, and evaluating how these risks are being managed.
Regulatory data center auditing
The second type of data center audit – audits that are formally required by regulations – has seen a lot of change in recent years.
Perhaps the most notable shift was the replacement of SAS 70 and SSAE 16, which are auditing standards that play a key role in SOC 2 compliance, with SSAE 18, which is an updated version of the standard. This change doesn’t fundamentally alter the reporting requirements for data centers that need to achieve SOC compliance, but it does update some of the reporting details.
For that reason, data center operators may need to update their auditing strategies to reflect the new rules introduced by PCI DSS 4 – which, among other enhancements, imposes much stricter requirements related to security and authentication. Those requirements could impact the physical and virtual security protections that data centers need to implement if they want to achieve PCI DSS compliance.
Beyond auditing: Other data center compliance changes
Beyond PCI DSS, there are a host of other compliance regulations and standards that some data centers may need to meet, especially if they cater to certain industries or operate in certain regions.
For example, data centers that host healthcare-related workloads may need to comply with HIPAA, the major healthcare data privacy protection regulation in the United States. The GDPR, CPRA, and CCPA data privacy regulations also impact data centers that are based in – or, in some cases, merely serve users based in – particular jurisdictions.
These compliance frameworks haven’t seen major updates in recent years, so auditing strategies that data centers already have in place to help comply with HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA and similar regulations should continue to work for the foreseeable future.
However, some changes may be in the works over the course of 2023 at least for HIPAA, so data center operators should monitor the compliance landscape closely to make sure they remain compliant with whichever auditing or other mandates the regulations impose.
The auditing requirements that data centers must heed haven’t been totally upended, but they are changing in notable ways. If you’re not paying attention – and if your data center auditing strategy is stuck in the 2010s – now’s the time to figure out how to meet new and emerging auditing mandates.