Standards are essential for ensuring resilient data center operation and interoperability in an increasingly complex global network.
The mainstay of data center certification is Uptime Institute's Tiers. Recently, the Open-IX Association emerged as a self-regulated community to address resiliency and certify facilities that meet developed standards. The two organizations differ substantially in how data centers achieve certification.
Uptime progressively builds redundancy and safe data center operation requirements at each tier. The problem, however, is transparency. Uptime doesn't establish open criteria, and instead examines each facility on a one-off basis for resiliency and reliability. There is no pre-defined metric to determine if a component, such as power design, is good or bad.
The tiers are generally explained as:
- Tier I for dedicated data center space with UPS support, cooling and backup generators for IT systems.
- Tier II for redundant critical power and cooling equipment.
- Tier III for concurrently maintainable systems that continue operating despite repair or scheduled maintenance.
- Tier IV fault-tolerant data centers keep IT systems operational, despite failures or disruptions to critical power and cooling infrastructure.
The Open Internet Exchange (Open-IX or OIX) Association's data center technical standards (OIX-2) is part of an open, community-based, non-proprietary effort to standardize the critical infrastructures of data centers and Internet exchange providers. The standards cover much of the same ground as Uptime Tiers, with a focus on data transfer, uniform connectivity and resiliency.
The OIX-2 standard outlines 19 physical requirements like utility feeds, water sources, network access, electrical distribution, generators, floor loading, UPS deployment and so on. Physical requirements also stipulate details like flood and other natural threat zones, security and fire protection. OIX-2's physical requirements are akin to Uptime's tiers for facility design and constructed facility, where consultants with Uptime expertise evaluate a data center's electrical, mechanical, monitoring and automation systems, and observe testing of these systems.
The OIX-2 standard also covers 13 data center operational requirements, including rules, licensing, commissioning, maintenance, change and workflow management, disaster planning and compliance, among other points. These are comparable to Uptime's operational sustainability requirements, which cover staffing, training, practices and processes on-site.
Whereas Uptime shares only general information on Tier compatibility, Open-IX makes the specifics available. For example, OIX-2 requires a minimum of N+1 generating capacity for critical load, cooling and life safety from data center generators, with enough fuel for 24 hours of operation under full load. Exceptions allow for less fuel storage if the facility cannot support that volume and two or more fuel supply contracts are in place. N generators (rather than N+1) may be used if the facility has multiple power feeds and a reliable utility service.
Granting Uptime vs. Open-IX certifications
The process of granting certifications is radically different between Uptime Institute and the Open-IX Association.
Uptime runs a proprietary standard system in which Uptime's consultants go on-site to review how a design is actually implemented, observe tests to various systems, and dig into plans and operations.
OIX-2 data center certification is self-granted. The applicant self-assesses each physical and operational requirement and describes any exceptions and service levels for key attributes of the facility, such as cooling or electrical service. In addition, at least one employee of the data center ownership or facility applying for certification must be a member of Open-IX. The application is reviewed and put out for public comment before certification approval.
The cost of Uptime Tier certification can be substantial, involving multiple on-site consultations and subsequent report preparation and delivery. The investment is greater for bigger, more sophisticated data centers. For example, certifying a $4.5 million data center cost colocation provider OnePartner about $45,000, or 1% of its data center spend in 2009. This increases if more design work or facility remediation is needed to reach the desired Tier level.
OIX-2 certification costs $5,000, in addition to the membership mentioned above.
The reality of renewal adds another dimension of complexity and cost to data center certification processes and to any major infrastructure changes made during the facility's lifetime.
Some certifications from Uptime expire at different points. Data center design certifications expire after two years and operational sustainability certifications expire between one and three years. Tier certifications for constructed facilities don't expire.
Open-IX certifications like OIX-2 must be renewed annually.
Certifications are not always essential for successful business operations. In some cases, the time, effort and financial investment needed for successful certifications might be better spent on other business or IT initiatives.