Tiers and the Changing Data Center Industry
By conducting a thorough look at case studies, they determined that data center infrastructure designs had evolved through at least four distinct stages, now captured in the Institute’s Tier Classification system. Historically, Tier I first appeared in the early 1960s, Tier II in the 1970s, Tier III in the late 1980s, and Tier IV in 1994. The Institute’s technical staff participated in the development of Tier III concepts and pioneered the creation of Tier IV with electrical power distribution systems. Following the conceptual development, United Parcel Service’s Windward data center project was the first Tier IV implementation, and in subsequent years, facilities around the world continue to aim for this achievement.
Since its inception in 1995, the Institute’s Tier Classification System has been used broadly in industry dialogue. It is a mixed blessing for the Institute and its Certification licensee ComputerSite Engineering that Tier language is so pervasive. On one hand, it clearly demonstrates that the marketplace has thoroughly embraced the concept, but this popularity can also result in erroneous interpretations and misuse. It’s complicated to police understanding and recognize client achievement when your intellectual property becomes the de facto industry standard.
The Tier objective of any data center is determined by the uptime needs of the business. Organizations that require 24xforever availability, such as those in the banking and transportation industries, for example, have a more critical use of a higher Tier level to support their uptime needs and are most likely to refer to their Tier level when describing their data center infrastructure. It is imperative that the managers of these mission critical facilities thoroughly understand the official distinctions among the Tiers as defined by the authors of the Tier Classification System.
In an effort to address both atrophy in industry understanding of what constitutes each Tier and industry changes since the first publication of the white paper defining Tier levels, the original Institute authors collaborated on an update to Tier Classifications Define Infrastructure Performance following last year’s Design Charrette in Santa Fe, NM, and in the process, incorporated peer reviews from key industry professionals. “This Tier white paper revision addresses industry feedback about organization and specific topics, such as engine generators,” says Kudritzki. It is also intended to clarify and build on the original fundamental concepts. The Institute also released a second white paper in tandem. The term “Operational Sustainability,” as quoted earlier by Kudritzki in reference to Tiers, is defined in the new publication, Operational Sustainability and Its Impact on Data Center Uptime Performance, Investment Value, Energy Efficiency, and Resiliency, as the design and operating factors that affect a site’s resiliency through infrastructure performance, effectiveness, and long-term value. As an enhancement to Tiers, factors are evaluated and a rating is added to the Tier level to indicate longevity of the Certification. Upon their release in early 2008, both white papers were downloaded and read by thousands of data center professionals.
OnePartner, in particular, has succeeded in using their Tier rating to promote business, and even though the Certification process was eye opening, the data center management team is happy with the impact to the organization. Tom Deaderick, director, expressed concern about the frequent self-certifications so prevalent in the data center world. “Certification is in-depth and almost certain to identify features or components required to achieve the desired Tier level. Many people would rather make claims than go through the process knowing they are going to face potentially expensive retrofit. The problem with that kind of thinking is that our industry needs a consistent measure so the public really knows what they are buying. The customers of data center services can’t actually see inside the operations, electric systems design, etc., so without a consistent reference point, how will they know if a center meets their business needs?” His remarks echo those of Kudritzki who warns that a lack of true understanding of Tiers leads to serious business consequences.