Thursday, 16 April 2009

What Tier is your data centre?

This week saw the Uptime Institute's 2009 Symposium in New York. The Uptime Institute has, as many of us know, created different data centre levels so that it is quick and easy to see what you are getting for your money, and why a tier II is significantly cheaper than a tier IV. They visit data centres and grade them on a number of different areas, watts/ft, raised floor height, amount of downtime permissible, level of resilience and redundancy etc... which gives us mere mortals a simple scale to match a data centre or co-lo to our needs.

The tiering system was created for a client who needed to explain to their management where there money was being spent, and what they would get for it. This system has become a worldwide phenomenon and many people now refer to their data centres as being 'Tier 1' or 'Tier 4'. But do you trust their accuracy?

Many colocation and hosting companies offer their services up as being Tier 3 or 4 in the UK, (sometimes even 'Tier 3 Plus' ... what's that all about?), suggesting that they have 99.982% or 99.995% site availability, but how honest are they being? Firstly, the Uptime Institute certifies very few data centres outside of the US, with only one in the UK certified as Tier 3. The principle of the idea, to make it easy for anyone to understand the required elements, is a good one. The problem is, very few organisations actually do understand what is required to meet any of the tier levels. For this reason, their claims of being 'Tier 3' or Tier 4' are very misleading. Data centres claimed as being Tier 3 that have windows on the perimeter of the computer room - not allowed! Tier 4 data centres that don't have an operations room directly accessible from the computer room - not allowed! Tier 3 data centres with one loading bay - not allowed! It must have one per 2,500 square metres! A Tier 3 data centre that doesn't have a 'single person interlock, portal or other hardware designed to prevent piggybacking or pass back of access credential, preferably biometrics' - if it doesn't comply, it simply isn't Tier 3!

So what can we do? Our recommendation? Work out your exact requirements for a data centre based on YOUR needs and your appetite for risk and downtime. Next, if they claim to be 'Tier' something - ask them to demonstrate how they are - guaranteed they'll talk about their airconditioning being N+1, (or at least the CRAC units), or their generator that has 72 hours of fuel on site, but what about the construction materials used for the ceiling, the distance from their dedicated campus fencing, (oh yes, they need it for Tier 3!), or the actual pitch of the roof? They're all there in the standards, along with over 200 other requirements! Next, get an audit done of the facility to see where it actually sits in the tiering standards (we'll do it if you like!). And finally, now that you are fully armed with the real truth .... negotiate! There is no point in paying for something that is blatently not provided!

Migration Solutions are a specialist data centre consultants who focus on the operation, migration and design of new data centres and upgrading older facilities. Crucially, Migration Solutions are vendor independent allowing them to give impartial advice based on extensive experience. For more information visit

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