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Uptime Institute opens data center availability tiers

Uptime's is ready to update its tier system, which has been the de facto standard for data center availability. But will the changes address criticisms that existing tiers were outmoded and rigid?

Changes to the Uptime Institute's data center availability tiers could come as soon as early 2010, thanks to a new end users' advisory committee.

Uptime's availability rating system, which consists of four tiers with increasing uptime expectations, has been the de facto standard for data center availability in the industry. But some have criticized the tier system, saying it isn't as flexible as it should be and needs to be updated.

The Uptime Institute has responded by forming an owners advisory committee, which is made up of data center end users who are also Uptime members. Formed in May, the committee currently has 32 members.

"We wanted to be able to grow and evolve the tiers into the next level," said Hank Seader, an Uptime consultant who helped develop the initial tier rating system. "The tiers continue to be a tool for the data center industry. We wanted to know how it could be a better tool."

Mike Wills, the director of facilities management for the Bank of Montreal, is a committee member. The bank owns the only data center in Canada that is certified by Uptime as Tier 4, which is the highest level of availability. That rating signifies that the facility is completely fault tolerant.

"I believe the standard has to evolve, especially since technology is evolving," Wills said.

"To have an industry-accepted standard to work around is a huge value to everyone."

Wills said that one of the committee's first tasks is to examine the Tier 1 definition for the least available data center. Typically such a facility is defined as "bare bones," according to Wills, but the group may want to distinguish a nonredundant data center from a server closet or a mere server rack in an office.

The committee is hoping to vote on changes to the tier standards as early as next fall.

Shooting for a more international standard

The institute may also work to make the standard more usable internationally, nowhere it is now geared toward North America. As an example, Wills explained that the electrical distribution in the U.S. is typically done at 480 volts, while in Canada it's 600 volts but building codes differ by country, and the tiers should probably incorporate those differences into its system, Wills said.

"In Europe it's totally different, so you have to take that into consideration," Wills said. "What makes a Tier 4 here might not make a Tier 4 there. You have to be able to account for those differences."

Seader added that another potential change could be in the definition of the Tier 2 standard, which requires that some parts of the data center infrastructure be redundant but doesn't get into details. An updated standard could specify exactly which components need to be redundant to qualify for Tier 2, Seader said..

"Right now the idea is that (the owners advisory committee) will make the recommendations," Seader said. "Then it will be the current tier-certifying authorities deciding how it will go into the standard."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.


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