Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Uptime Institute to change Tiering

The Uptime Institute plans to open up its data center availability tier standards, with two programs catered toward end users and design engineers.

The Uptime tiers have become the de facto standard for availability in the data center industry. The system includes four tiers that escalate in availability as the number increases, with Tier 4 being completely fault tolerant. Uptime has tried to rein in the standards, as many data centers have claimed a certain tier availability without official certification from Uptime. On the other side, some have questioned the relevancy of the tier standards, saying that putting them to practical use can be as difficult as solving the Da Vinci Code.

(Excerpt taken from

The real problems with the Uptime Institute's tier classifications are in my opinion, three fold.

Firstly, the standards are written by Americans for the US and half of them are not applicable to the rest of the world. They are written in imperial measures which do not apply to the vast majority of the rest of the world and are based on 110 volt power, which is not available in the rest of the world. The standards clearly state that in order to comply with any tier, you must comply with ALL requirements of that tier - i.e. if you want to be Tier 2, you must comply with all of the requirements of Tier 2. The problem here is that outside of the US, it is impossible to comply with all of the requirements for any tier.

Secondly, the standards are very, very widely misused. Claims are made of being 'Tier 3' or 'Tier 4', but what these data centres really mean is that they have some vague relation to the levels of resilience and redundancy that are required by a particular 'tier'. Very few people have actually read the standards and when challenged will only say that they are 'inline with industry peers'. Being a US based organisation, it is very difficult for any data centre outside of the US to obtain a tier classifcation as the Uptime Institute will not licence others to certify data centres and either do not have the resources to do it themselves, or do not have the appetite. The Uptime Institute say that they have only certified 'about a dozen' data centres, which tells us something about those who claim to be 'tier' anything!

Thirdly, whilst the Uptime Institute may be a 'not for profit' organisation, the fact is that it is a company. This same company has a subsidiary called 'Uptime Technologies', which is very much a 'for profit' organisation, selling products into the data centre industry. This calls into question the independence of the Uptime Institute as they surely must be tempted to introduce requirements that their subsidiary company just happens to have products to fulfill.

The advocation of standards is a good thing. However, these should be defined by an International Standards body that is trully independent and does not have a commercial subsidiary. These standards should be such that they account for differences between geographical locations and what can be achieved and should have at their heart the ultimate goal - that is, to have a standard that defines a level of availability that includes the infrastructure, the building and all the other areas that are currently covered (in a simpler fashion), but also includes the architecture of the technology. It will be interesting to see how this one develops!

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