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The 451 Group proposes new tier standards for IT systems

The 451 Group has proposed adapting the Uptime Institute's tier system for data center facilities to IT systems.

BOSTON -- Many forces are driving next-generation data centers: server virtualization, commodity hardware, the ever-present cloud, the proliferation of mobile devices and the convergence of IT and facilities management.

Now the 451 Group, and its recently acquired think tank, the Uptime Institute, has floated the prospect of new IT systems tier standards to measure IT performance and reliability, akin to the Uptime's tier system for rating data center facilities. The New York-based research company proposed the notion at the 451 Group's 4th Annual Client Conference in Boston on Tuesday.

At least some data center professionals welcomed the idea of a new tier system for IT. "It would provide a benchmark for best practices in the sector," said CIO Dan Stross of Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc, Mich., who recently deployed desktop virtualization at kiosks for doctors. "It would indicate value and distinguish us for customers," agreed Jeremy Sherwood, the vice president of sales and operations and Opus Interactive, a Portland, Ore.-based managed service provider that has created virtual clusters for its clients using blade servers, storage area networks and server virtualization.

As cloud computing gathers steam -- and sputters, with well-publicized outages from Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and Microsoft Azure -- the move to address reliability and performance standards makes sense. But a tier system for IT may not be the cure-all for poor service levels; nor is the idea of standards new. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) -- a set of concepts for managing IT services and operations -- have been slow to warm among data centers. In the recent "Data Center Decisions: 2009 Purchasing Intentions survey," only 21% of 920 IT managers had implemented ITIL. That was a decrease of 9% from ITIL implementation in 2008.

But a tier system for IT systems could succeed where other standards have stalled. Uptime is the architect of a four-tier data center facilities structure, which has become the de facto standard for data center reliability in the industry. So too, cloud computing has shined a spotlight on service levels and reliability, as data center managers shed control in exchange for reduced IT costs and greater flexibility.

"Cloud computing and virtualization bring problems," conceded the 451 Group's Rachel Chalmers, "but the problems are more interesting." Tiers for IT may make things more interesting still by defining value among complex IT systems and bringing greater transparency.

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