The Value Of Data Center Standards
Implementing and following standards can lead to better performing mission critical facilities.
Most companies and corporations have corporate standards that address fiduciary and fiscal duties, responsibilities, and protocols, etc. They have standards addressing the execution and governance of their core business and how the company interacts with regulators, labor unions, and other companies. They have standards for contracting and procurement practices, etc., as well as for human resources with regards to employment hiring and retention, workplace behaviors, even dress codes. But surprisingly it is often the case that companies, corporations, institutions, agencies, etc., have no corresponding standards for the design, construction, operations, or maintenance of their critical facilities, or that the standards that exist are either inadequate or unenforced.
Establishing Performance Expectations
Standards are more than directions for managing businesses and processes. They actually establish the minimum acceptable performance that must be achieved to ensure the respective activity meets the fundamental needs of the company to succeed. It is generally acceptable to exceed the standard such as keeping more documentation and retaining records for longer than required, exceeding regulators and code requirements, or dressing better than the dress code allows. Standards also have value in that they not only set minimum performance levels, but also standardize the associated processes. But this can be a double-edged sword. In today’s day and age, where change is the new constant, corporate standards must also evolve to remain appropriate.
Mission critical facilities typically have the challenge of maintaining continuous operations of all core mission related activities and functions, meaning they must achieve 7x24 forever uninterrupted services. In the past, this was accomplished by supporting the “core business” with redundant infrastructure to allow for “fault tolerance” and “concurrent maintainability.” The data center industry recognized that industry standards were needed resulting in ASHRAE TC9.9’s Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments, The Uptime Institute’s “Tier” designations, TIAA, and Telcordia standards, etc. Existing standards previously developed for typical infrastructure such as expected equipment life spans, preventive maintenance practices, and staff composition, qualifications, and training requirements had to be revised to meet the increased demands and performance needs of 7x24 critical facilities.
As businesses became more and more reliant on computers, networks, and all things IT, new strategies arose including mirrored servers, virtualization, and other means to move from business recovery, to business continuity. This has taken some of the burden off of the “supporting infrastructure” by expanding the critical redundancy into the actual core business activities. As these new and innovative IT reliability strategies evolve, the corresponding corporate standards must also evolve.
Some obvious examples would be standards developed prior to the arrival of “dual-corded” servers and IT devices may no longer be appropriate for managing and provisioning power to dual-corded IT. Standards associated for managing the environmental conditions within a data hall/computer room built even a few years ago may no longer reflect industry best practices. Staff and facilities management standards established when a site was manned by direct employees, or at least “in-house” contractors, are probably inappropriate after a company out-sources these staff, duties, and responsibilities to an outside firm. Even something as standardized as preventive maintenance standards need to be re-evaluated and adjusted when predictive maintenance and on-line condition-based monitoring programs are implemented.
When Companies Merge
Another scenario where corporate standards, or lack thereof, have great impact is when companies merge with or acquire other companies and/or their critical assets. In these situations, one of the first steps of the due diligence process should be to review and compare the respective corporate standards. When these align well, chances are the merging of the business entities will most likely encounter much fewer road bumps than where large gaps or differences exist between the separate businesses.
A large part of the merger plan should be on agreeing to what the new corporate standards will be, understanding what directives, changes, and communications need to occur to implement these standards across the corporation, and provisioning the necessary resources to update and revise the impacted processes, procedures, training, and staffing to support the new standards.
Unfortunately, this process does not always extend down into the facilities management arena. The result is each facility continues operating and maintaining their building and associated infrastructure “the way we have always done it.” Since an outcome of many mergers or acquisitions is the repurposing of assets and in some cases even repurposing entire facilities, the previous standards may even be overly stringent. A data center that previously supported a bank’s financial transactions does not need to achieve the same reliability requirements as it does after being repurposed to support less critical business needs or is now “mirrored” at a separate data center. Either way, any “repurposing” should include a review and update of the associated standards.
Better Performance Through Adherence
There are reasons some companies or facilities perform better than others. In many cases this is due to adherence to industry best practices reflected in appropriate corporate standards that are implemented by compliant processes and procedures. Less successful companies often fail due to insufficient governance and adherence to industry best practices and lack of appropriate corporate standards. These less successful, poor performing companies then become targets for mergers and acquisitions. If the merger process doesn’t include propagation of appropriate, updated corporate standards, then it is likely the non-performing assets will continue to perform poorly, and this can adversely affect the entire corporation. Not all mergers or acquisitions are successful.
Our everyday lives are guided by standards which in many ways provide us the rules, guidelines, and expectations we take for granted. When we drive to work we drive in the right hand lane and expect other drivers to do the same, we adhere to speed limits as posted so we don’t drive too slow or too fast (and here is an example where it’s generally not acceptable to exceed the standard!) We stop at red lights and go on green. Anyone who has driven in situations where these standards either do not exist, or are largely ignored (such as Bogota, Colombia, Bangalore, India, or even Washington, DC during rush hour) has experienced the results. No matter how good a driver you are, and how well your vehicle performs and is maintained, you will probably be late getting to your destination if you get there at all.