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Uptime Institute expands data center tier rating system

The Uptime Institute has broadened its constraining data center tier ratings to encompass a new grading system for data centers that are in between tier levels.

The Uptime Institute Inc. has written a new paper that defines data center grades to help augment its popular tier standards that characterize data center availability.

These "operational sustainability" grades are A, B and C, where A is the highest rating. The system is designed to help companies whose availability lies in between tiers (i.e., better than one level's minimum but not high enough to qualify for a higher tier).

Uptime determines the operational sustainability of a site by exploring five categories:

  • Site selection. Some of the factors included in this category are susceptibility to natural disasters, availability of the workforce and utility rates.
  • Building characteristics. This category examines whether a building is up to code and has support spaces to bar unnecessary activity and materials from server rooms.
  • Fitness for use. Can a site and building accommodate future growth? Does the site use cutting-edge but unproven technology in a mission-critical site?
  • Investment effectiveness. The data center's energy efficiency, resale value, and ability to align with business goals.
  • Management and operations. Does a company support employee training and ongoing education about data centers? Does it have meaningful metrics to measure data center performance or have a team that includes IT and facilities employees working together?

The goal for Uptime is that the new grading system will help companies avoid misusing the tiers with phrases such as "a Tier 3-plus data center" or "a near-Tier 4 facility."

Enhancing the tier rating system

The operational sustainability grades are intended to complement the group's four-tier classification system, which examines the robustness and redundancy of a data center facility.

Thus, under the new system, two data centers might be designated as Tier 3 facilities because they have dual-powered IT equipment fed by dual uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices. But one might have an A grade for its use of vented-lead-acid batteries in its UPS devices, while a site that uses inferior valve-regulated-lead acid batteries might only have an operational sustainability grade of a B or C.

"It addresses incremental level of investment within the tiers," said Hank Seader, an engineer at Uptime Institute, who helped create the original tier system. "There are many ways to achieve objectives within a certain tier. With operational sustainability, we recognize that they get an additional value from that additional investment."

The tier classification process

Uptime's tier system gives companies a standard way to express their level of investment and performance, especially when it comes to data center availability. The highest level, a Tier 4 site, is considered a fault-tolerant site with redundant capacity components in every facet of the data center, from dual-power supplies on the server to dual feeds from different utility power sources to backup facility cooling plans. Currently there are fewer than five Tier 4-certified sites in the world and just a little more than two dozen certified sites altogether.

Julian Kudritzki, the certification manager for  ComputerSite Engineering Inc., a firm that works closely with Uptime, said certification usually comes in two phases. The first looks at data center design documents and identifies areas for possible improvement. Seader said these reviews are taken "extraordinarily seriously by us." Licensed engineers examine documents and consult with one another to determine the probable tier rating.

The second is an actual deployment of consultants and engineers that validate whether the company built the data center according to spec.

"What people see is the low number of Tier 3 and Tier 4 sites because it's a rigorous certification process," Kudritzki said.

Now that Uptime has published the operational sustainability paper, it will immediately begin to examine sites at both the tier level and the operational sustainability level. Expect to start seeing sites with the new letter grades in the next few months.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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