New Tier Models, and The Uptime Institute Tier Ratings for Data Centers

Uptime Institute Tier III Data Center SchematicBob Landstrom, CGEIT, CISSP, CDCDP

The Tier Model for Mission Critical Facilities, created and governed by The Uptime Institute (TUI), is the most pervasively referenced data center tier model.  It is not the only multi-level model describing the quality of data center facilities, but it by far enjoys the majority of mindshare in this regard.

The four-tier model from The Uptime Institute was developed through thoughtful analysis and extensive empirical data from facilities of member organizations.  Quality control over interpretation and accreditation of tier ratings to facilities is closely guarded by TUI.  Awarding a tier level to a facility can only be done through designated professional services suppliers sanctioned by TUI.  Self proclaimed use of a tier rating by any company without TUI involvement exposes the firm to legal action by TUI.  Even so, misuse and misappropriation by enterprises world-wide is prolific.

Uptime Institute Data Center Tier Classifications: Time for a Refresh?

Posted by Bob Landstrom

Enterprises have embraced the data center tier classification system developed by the Uptime Institute for evaluating their own data center facilities and those of potential colocation and hosting providers.

The subject of facility availability has matured over recent years.  The mind set has matured from recognition that existing IT facilities were a problem that needed to be improved to questions of how to improve.  How much should we improve them?  What do we improve?  How far can we grow?  Traditionally, these questions were answered without much guidance beyond the level of capital funds available for improvements.

The tier classification system developed by the Uptime Institute is an academic framework that can be used as guidance for determining the type of data center facility appropriate for the Business.  It’s a seminal body of work, and has become part of the daily lexicon of those working in the data center world.  We’ve written about it several times in this forum, covering what it is, where it came from, and what it’s not.  Indeed we’ve dedicated time in this blog talking about how the tier classifications are (very) frequently misused.

Data Center Tier Levels and Real Availability

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.

Data Center Tier Levels- Still Misunderstood

The data center consolidation and construction boom of the 21st century is well underway.  As we work with Clients, helping with planning, advice, and project management of these changes foundational to the future performance of their enterprise, we always encounter the discussion of facility Tier Level rating.

The Tier Level rating refers to an industry standard way of describing the degree to which the facility can support constant uninterrupted operation of the data processing systems.  We know that the systems themselves can be architected with high-availability configurations.  Tier Levels though, refer to the capability of the facility itself to support the systems it contains.  Utility power, temperature increases and so on are facilities issues, and are the foundation upon which any amount of data processing fault-tolerance stands.

Can I raise the tier level of my Data Center?

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.

A Quick Primer on Data Center Tier Ratings

For those of you who are regular visitors to this blog, this topic may seem rather basic.  However, I was recently asked to write an article on this subject and thought that if it’s good enough for that venue then perhaps someone will find benefit in reading here as well.  So here are some highlights from that piece-

Clients often come to us for help with data center consolidation or new data center implementation projects.  The discussion quickly comes around to the appropriate “Tier Level” for their IT facilities.  What we’re talking about here (to a large extent) is an industry standard way of describing the availability of the data center facility.  Availability, in this case, is referring to the degree to which the facility can support constant uninterrupted operation of the contained data processing systems.

We know that the systems themselves can be architected with high-availability configurations.  Autonomous failover of network connections, clustered server environments, and so on are ways that the systems can sustain operation even if, say, a server crashes.  What the Tier Levels of a data center refer to though, is the capability of the facility itself to support the systems it serves.  Utility power can fail, the temperature in the building can rise to cause damage to equipment, and so on.  These are facilities issues, and are the foundation upon which any amount of data processing fault-tolerance stands.