Data Center consolidation and Data Center outsourcing are top of mind for many CIO’s these days. Many companies have ’90s vintage IT facilities that not only do not have the availability to align with the Business‚ operating model but also are struggling to keep up with the power and cooling demands of contemporary computing systems.
The deployment of multi-core processors and blade-based systems has pulled the rug out from beneath many a facility manager. The rapidly growing consumption and cost of energy due to the Data Center have caused many a CFO to define facility operational costs as an IT problem.
Whatever the motivation for the Data Center project, one will have to become familiar with the spirit of the TIA-942 tier classifications as well as the nuances thereof
to exercise the proper degree of due care necessary in planning these very expensive projects. In many cases, the enterprise may be focused on the minutia of TIA-942 because of the desire to align the Business with the proper availability of the IT facility, but this may take place at the expense of pragmatism.
The Uptime Institute has done a great job of defining a framework for defining the topology and architecture of the MEP infrastructure of a data center that should yield a certain level of facility availability. It is true however, that some facilities that would score high on the Tier rating scale fail to achieve the target availability performance. Similarly, there are many facilities that would score low on the Tier rating scale that have exceptional availability performance.
Said another way, there are lots of Tier-2 sites that exceed Tier-4 availability performance and lots of Tier 3 and Tier 4 sites that fail to meet their availability targets.
Why is this so? Well it‚Äôs one thing to have the right levels of redundant paths and backup components but it’ss another thing to operate them in a way that ensures high availability. Many data centers have suffered outages because equipment settings were not what they were supposed to be. Inadequate equipment maintenance and operational procedures also account for higher
frequencies of outages and extended downtime. In other words, People, Processes, and Procedures that ensure the quality of operation in mission critical facilities.
A recent survey of AFCOM members found that 81 percent of respondents had experienced a data center failure in the past five years, and 20 percent had been hit with at least five failures. It’s common to find reports of high profile data centers that endure unexpectedly long outages because of failures of backup generators to start, improperly configured ATS equipment, contamination of diesel fuel, and many other similar nuances of system configuration and operation. Sad but true, the majority of failures in data centers are caused, triggered, or exacerbated by human error. These exposures are mitigated with a disciplined operational ethic.
One will often hear of SOPS and MOPS. This is the Standard Operating Procedures and Methods Of Procedures that are the operating bible for the facility staff. The exceptional performance of high availability sites is a testament to the quality of the staff managing and operating those sites.
In 2008, Switch and Data scored an impressive five nines in its facility uptime and some individual sites even exceeded that. This surpasses Tier-4 guidance and is a result of strong people, processes and procedures. It’s important to move the Tier Level discussion to one of availability, performance history, and value. The interest in knowing a prospective colocation site Tier Level is driven by a desire for a minimum threshold of facility availability in order to align with Business goals. This can be accomplished outside of the context of Tiers.
The right to certify the Tier Level of data centers is reserved by the Uptime Institute. It is a very expensive process, and as of this writing there are only 13 Tier-3 and two Tier-4 facilities that have been certified. While a consulting firm can do a thorough assessment to determine a facility’s Tier rating, only the Institute can “certify” it. All of these 15 sites are enterprise
facilities and none are multi-tenant colocation provider sites. With that said, there are lots of data centers that are said to be of a certain Tier Level, but the extent to which that is true can only be determined by thorough analysis of the MEP infrastructure.
Why is it that colocation providers are not rushing to achieve Tier certification? The reasons are beyond
the simple cost of undergoing certification. The levels of MEP infrastructure necessary to achieve the highest Tier Levels are extremely capital intensive. The cost/benefit and ROI outcomes are difficult to justify. Given that equally high availability is achievable by strong operational ethics by a company in the business of providing mission critical IT facilities allows exceptional value to be delivered to the Customer.