A new Uptime Institute Operational Sustainability benchmark, due out July 1, aims to measure a given data center's ability to avoid outages over long periods of time.
The new metric complements the Uptime Institute's existing data center tier standard. And while some data center professionals welcome the new metrics, others may be too entrenched in their ways to adjust to change.
Developed more than 10 years ago, the tier metric was developed to rate the availability of data center facility design: the sticks and bricks of a facility itself. The new Operational Sustainability benchmark, on the other hand, measures a data center's staffing, processes and place.
New metrics fill a gap
Many data center professionals have identified a real need for such metrics.
Paul Peoples, an IT executive at a large retailer said, "Anybody can buy a data center. You can hire an engineering firm to design and commission the facility, but once you turn it over to operations, there is no standard to judge the performance. This fills that gap."
Another data center executive at a large telecommunications company agreed. "A company can drop a half-billion dollars into a data center, but not staff it correctly. This helps show executives that we can't reduce expenses every year and not face consequences. I would value a third-party recommendation to have an engineer on-site at all hours. A lot of companies outsource the building staff. Do the contractors even know who to turn the UPS [uninterruptible power supply] back on?"
Typical criteria for the new benchmark center on a facility's staffing, whether its processes are documented and whether that documentation is used. It also looks into where a data center is located. Is it, for example, located in an area that is susceptible to natural or manmade disasters?
Operational Sustainability establishes behavior, or baseline criteria, that can be met in a variety of ways with varying levels of rigor and thoroughness, said Julian Kudritzki, the Uptime Institute's VP of professional services. "Similar to the tiers, the means of achieving the site objectives are left to be determined within each organization and within each site."
Kudritzki said that a significant benefit of the forthcoming Operational Sustainability standard is that it will prioritize data center risk factors. "Site personnel will be equipped with a tool to address the most imminent risks to their operation. This works to ensure the best use of resources available to the owner."
According to data from the Uptime Institute's Site Uptime Network, a group of large data center operators that track abnormal incidents in their facilities, more than 70% of data center site failures are due to a human error.
The Operational Sustainability ratings are Gold, Silver, Bronze, and "Not Rated." The definition of each rating is based on a sliding scale, depending on the tier classification of a data center. Uptime will conclude the beta-testing of a points-based system, and plans to have the program ready to go by July.
Companies can use the Operational Sustainability metric in conjunction with the Tier system as a self-assessment tool, or hire Uptime Institute Professional Services to certify the data center.
Many in the industry see public certification as a valuable marketing tool for high end colocation firms.
"Third-party hosting companies will have a value in getting certified publically," said a data center facility exec from a large financial firm. "I can use the metric internally to help the corporation set standards. But I wouldn't be able to publicly state our metrics even if I did get the certification."
"There is no value for me to go to market with my operational sustainability score," said Peoples. "For me, the value is equipping leadership with that information and indentifying gaps to make investments. I need to be able to articulate the risks.
Benefit or hornet's nest?
Historically, the Uptime Institute's clientele comprises large financial and insurance industry data centers with conservative practices. Peoples said that many companies with entrenched facilities teams have been doing the same things for 20 years and may not be excited about the idea of having Uptime Institute consultants telling them how to do their jobs. But Peoples is ready to hear them out and hopes to sign up to be one of the first operations to get evaluated.
Others concur that Operational Sustainability certification could be a political hornets nest for some organizations.
"I have not met one data center manager in my career that thinks he's doing something in his data center wrong or inefficiently. This is potentially a flash point," said Mike Manos, vice president, service operations at Nokia. "Big players like Microsoft, Google and large banks -- how they operate mission-critical environments is a strategic asset and intellectual property. How are you going to tell me what the best practices are when I can't even tell you what my primary mission is? It's going to be difficult for Uptime to make headway, but I wish them the best of luck."
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