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Syska Hennessy proposes new data center performance metric

Syska Hennessy, a New York engineering and consulting firm, has proposed a new data center performance metric that it hopes to promote alongside the existing tier system from The Uptime Institute.

Syska Hennessy, a New York-based engineering, technology and consulting firm, has proposed a new data center performance metric that it says is more detailed than the Uptime Institute Inc.'s tier system.

Syska Hennessy will present its proposal at the DataCenter Dynamics Conference in San Francisco in July but has released some details about what the standard includes.

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Unlike the four-tiered system from the Uptime Institute, which has come to be a universal standard for data center performance, the Syska Hennessy system examines 11 different aspects of data center performance and measures them on a scale from one to 10.

The 11 items are: power, HVAC, fire and life safety, security, IT infrastructure, controls and monitoring, commissioning and testing, operations, maintenance, operations and maintenance procedures, and disaster preparedness. Syska Hennessy calls its system the Criticality Levels.

"Basically, it's a more complete way of looking at criticality and defining the targeted reliability levels for a particular facility," said Jerry Burkhardt, Syska Hennessy vice president of commissioning services. "The systems that have been in place in the past have been ambiguous and limited."

Burkhardt added that it's not the intent of Syska Hennessy to topple the Uptime Institute's system, just to augment it.

"We're not trying to slam the Uptime Institute, that's not the point here," he said. "We're not trying to challenge them, either."

The Uptime Institute created a four-tier rating system that applied the IT concepts of high availability and concurrent maintainability to the underlying data center infrastructure. Tier-1 data centers are the most basic while a Tier-4 is fundamentally immune to planned and unplanned downtime. The research firm developed its classifications over 10 years ago.

According to Hank Seader, a senior consultant at the Uptime Institute who developed the tier system with the Uptime Institute's Pitt Turner, the tier system is an overall conceptual look at the data center, while the Syska Hennessy proposal examines more detailed, engineering aspects.

"If Syska Hennessy wants to add significant refinements, it certainly doesn't change the broad categories that the tier system provides," Seader said.

Others in the industry say the tier system needs to be re-examined. "The Uptime Institute's tier system definitely needs an update," said Robert McFarlane, an expert in data center design and principal with New York-based Shen Milsom & Wilke Inc. "It's just a question of who should be the one doing it."

Peter Panfil, a board member of Afcom's Data Center Institute, said he was impressed with the Syska Hennessy proposal when he first saw it late last year. Panfil, who is also the vice president for power engineering at Columbus, Ohio-based Liebert Corp., says the proposed system requires more details from companies about how their data centers are operating.

But he said that if a new standard were accepted, it probably wouldn't lead to the Uptime Institute's tier system disappearing.

"I think everybody is still going to relate things back to the tiers," Panfil said. "People kind of try to fit the things they're working on into that Uptime definition."

Both the Uptime Institute and Syska Hennessy are for-profit consulting firms -- not formal standards bodies or professional associations. The companies develop these data center performance metrics because it means a good deal of publicity and good standing -- and therefore business for the consulting services -- and so it's unclear which one will, or should, prevail.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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