So many discussions with prospective Clients begin with the subject of data center tier ratings. Many companies are struggling with data center facilities that no longer adequately serve their Business, and are seeking a path toward better scalability, availability, security, and lower cost of ownership.
In the mid-market segment, while there are exceptions to the rule to be sure, most often I find enterprise data centers that are in need of help.¬†¬† The staff supporting these spaces is always top-notch and very committed to doing the right thing all the time, but an accumulation of circumstances has created a data center environment in which few would be proud.
While we could talk about many problems nearly universally found in these enterprise data centers (hint- MEP capacity limitations, cable-clogging under raised floors, thermal management,…), the problem most often mentioned by the CIO has to do with the misalignment of the data center tier rating to the Business.
What do we mean by saying that the tier rating is misaligned with the Business?¬† Well, for the purposes of most conversations in this context, the higher the tier rating of the facility, the higher level of availability afforded to the data processing environment.¬† Businesses that operate across multiple time zones, that do business globally, are involved in financial transactions, operate 24-hour call centers, or that incur significant financial penalties for violation of stated customer service levels, require high availability facilities.¬† These businesses need to have their systems and data available around the clock.¬† The data center facility is the foundation upon which any high-availability data processing implementation stands.¬† When the facility fails, the impact to the Business is substantial.
Most mid-market data centers that we encounter in this situation are Tier-1 facilities.¬† A Business that operates with the parameters mentioned above is simply not well served by a Tier-1 or Tier-2 facility.¬† There’s simply too much revenue at risk.¬† This is what we mean by saying there is a misalignment between the tier level of the facility and the Business.¬† Executive management usually knows this, or they strongly suspect it.¬† They ask for help in charting the course from where they are today, to a Tier-3 or Tier-4 facility.
In many cases the answer to this question is, “you can’t get there from here,” or said another way, “you can’t get there if you stay here.”¬† Moving from even a Tier-2 to a Tier-3 is a step that bridges a very wide gap, and oftentimes the architecture or setting of the existing facility presents a roadblock in the path. ¬†¬†Let’s discuss just one or two factors to elaborate upon this point.
Space is often a limiting factor in elevating the tier level of an existing site.¬† All three dimensions come into play.¬† The X-Y dimensions are most obviously limiting because of the boundaries placed on the extent to which we can place “stuff” on the floor.¬† A Tier-3 facility, for example, typically requires an equal amount of square footage for the MEP infrastructure as the IT space itself.¬† Often, there simply is not enough empty space to sufficiently accommodate the MEP equipment room, nor the distribution infrastructure that accompanies the added redundancy of MEP systems.¬† This becomes an exercise in “squeezing a balloon” – squeezing the air on one side only makes it pop out on the other side.
Another limiting space factor is the floor-to-ceiling clearance in the Z dimension.¬† If you’re using the raised floor as a cool air plenum, then the higher tier facilities will need deeper raised floors.¬† If your building has a 12 foot ceiling clearance, and you plan on a 36 inch raised floor, you’re out of space for racks and cable management.¬† This is also a factor that often disqualifies core/shell properties for consideration as a new data center.
The space around the building and the environment in which it’s located is another important factor.¬† If your existing site is in an office park, near a residential neighborhood, or otherwise influenced by zoning you may not be able to install (or operate) the necessary generator and chiller equipment near the building.¬† The fuel storage requirements of the generators may also present a problem.¬†¬† Beyond zoning restrictions, it’s important to consider the space that this equipment occupies and the impact that has to other uses of the property (e.g., parking).
Physical security and location-based risk factors must be considered as well.¬† If the business activity justifies the need for a high tier data center it probably also deserves robust physical security.¬† Adequate perimeter fencing and physical access control is difficult to accomplish in many typical business settings.¬† Proximity to major highways, rail lines, air traffic landing approach paths, and so on present risks that need to be balanced against investment in secure facilities with high-value assets.
These are but a few of the issues involved in this decision.¬† Of course there are many other factors¬† including cost projections, component lead times, architectural factors, resource requirements, compliance, technology, security, and of course TCO and long term value to the firm.¬† Some are obvious and others are nuanced.
When the answer to the question, “Can I raise the tier level of my data center” is “No,” the firm must then consider a broader set of roadmap options including collocation, hosting, outsourcing, buy, buy/build, and build-new.¬† ¬†When considering the investment to improve the tier level of data center facilities, careful and thorough assessment is necessary to support the decision process with substantive, credible, and actionable data.