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New data center ratings system challenges Uptime, TIA

The IDCA Infinity Paradigm challenges Uptime's Tier ratings with a pyramid system that ranks data centers based on service availability and quality.

Every so often, someone comes along and challenges the status quo in the interest of modernization.

The International Data Center Authority (IDCA) wants to fill gaps in the established data center ratings for resiliency and uptime, with a departure from some of the Uptime Institute's Tiers and ASHRAE 9.9, TIA-942, BICSI and IEEE standards and guidelines.

"The existing [focus on just power and cooling] doesn't reflect what we need today, and in the future," said Mehdi Paryavi, Chairman of IDCA, a research and education organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The IDCA created a seven-layer pyramid of holistic data center operation: application, platform, compute, IT infrastructure, site facility infrastructure, the site's space and topology. This model accounts for the interdependencies between IT and facilities that engender high-quality service delivery.

"We're past the days of silos where people say, 'I'm a database administrator. I don't care about power.' Everyone needs to know the impact of their choices," Paryavi said.

IDCA proposes the Infinity Paradigm, which rates a data center on criteria in each layer of the pyramid, such as location, telecommunications and design, power and cooling, storage and backup, IT infrastructure, applications, connection to hosting services and more. A data center's Infinity grade level and aggregate efficacy score come from weighted individual scores in availability, efficiency, security, capacity, operation and resiliency, parsed in a complex set of formulas.

The impetus behind the project is to treat the data center as its own field of expertise with numerous interrelated components, Paryavi said, and not as a subset of building design or cabling.

IDCA also expects its Infinity Paradigm to address inflexibilities in established standards. For example, Paryavi said, established standards say that you shouldn't build a data center near an airport, military base or radiology lab. But these industries need data centers.

IDCA Infinity certifications

All auditors and consultants who assess data centers based on IDCA principles must graduate from IDCA programs.

The Data Center Infrastructure Specialist (DCIS) certification requires a foundation and data center overview course, which is the basis for either a Manager or Expert route.

The Data Center Authority (DCA) certification reflects a complete understanding and knowledge of the entire data center and application ecosystem.

Data Center Certified Auditors, Consultants and Instructors can certify their own operations, sites, infrastructure and facilities, with the findings validated by IDCA to avoid discrepancies and ensure quality and uniformity.

"You have to understand the needs of a specific industry. For military, for instance, you need to [put the data center] underground, and efficiency doesn't matter. Other industries are the opposite," Paryavi said, such as the retail order processing sector.

Rather than design a data center for a certain quantity and redundancy of power, companies should ask what they are powering, he said. If an application is virtualized across a server cluster, is a single point of failure in one rack relevant? If an application has multiple delivery points from a cloud infrastructure, does a single point of failure in one data center matter? The output of the application, not the number of uninterruptible power supply systems, matters.

"We're looking at application-centric data centers," Paryavi said. "Ten Tier I data centers can be better than one or two Tier III data centers."

But the demand for another new ranking system such as IDCA's isn't certain.

"[Uptime] tiers are not outdated, and I doubt it will happen in my lifetime," said Robert E. McFarlane, principal in charge of data center design for the international consulting firm Shen Milsom and Wilke, who reviewed the IDCA documentation for its Infinity Paradigm.

"This [ranking system] bears a great resemblance to TIA-942," he added, which also aims to break apart Uptime's tier levels and include operations information such as application hosting.

We're past the days of silos where people say I'm a database administrator, I don't care about power. Everyone needs to know the impact of their choices.
Mehdi ParyaviChairman, IDCA

There is a push and pull between defining data center reliability/quality in a standardized way and accurately accommodating the circumstances of a particular build, which encourages data centers to consider adopting these Uptime challengers.

"There are times when going to [Uptime] Tier IV requirements on every aspect of the design may be impractical or impossible," McFarlane said. "And according to Uptime, there is no Tier 3.5."

While the Uptime tier levels are not prescriptive, he said, they are built on the data shared by major companies with deep data center expertise, and therefore garner industry-wide trust despite their rigidity.

Trust comes from transparency, according to John Sheputis, president, Infomart Data Centers, a U.S. colocation provider.

"We'll make it as transparent as you want," he said, but having certifications that are recognized industry-wide means you don't have to answer the same question about fuel delivery or work order records for every new colocation client. Sheputis believes Uptime Tiers coupled with the institute's Management & Operations Stamp adequately inform IT of the underlying facility performance, and shouldn't go further up the chain.

"When you start getting into cloud and IT build-out, you're mixing facility quality of service with IT quality of service," Sheputis said. "The IT side changes much faster and is much more specific to the business needs."

Next Steps

What do Tiers tell you?

Meet the Open-IX standards

Inside ASHRAE 9.9

Keep a data center build on track

Dig Deeper on IT compliance and governance strategies

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