For years, the Uptime Institute’s tiered ratings system has been the gold standard for assessing data center reliability and availability – literally. The organization’s Tier IV Gold designation is so stringent that only a handful of operators around the globe have been deemed worthy.
One of them is Switch, which became the first carrier-neutral colocation provider to be so honored in 2014 for its SuperNAP center in Las Vegas, and has since gained Gold status at a second facility in nearby.
But now, the Uptime Institute’s rating system is under fire, and by none other than Switch, which claims the criteria used in the various tiers is out of date and that the institute itself cannot ensure an unbiased assessment of data center facilities and operations. The company has implemented its own Tier 5 standard that it says is the most comprehensive in the industry. Not only does it incorporate the resiliency and redundancy requirements of existing ratings systems, including Uptime’s, but then adds another 30 elements like long-term power availability, redundant telecom services and zero roof penetration requirements. In this way, Switch says it can give enterprise executives a clearer understanding of the risks to sustainable service that are present both within the data center and in the surrounding environment.
But the more explosive charge in Switch’s announcement is the accusation that Uptime, being a unit of the 451 Group, is tasked with providing a neutral examination of the same data facilities that its parent is trying to woo as customers for its research and analysis services. This conflict not only colors the designation of the various tiers, Switch executives tell Datacenter Knowledge, but also leads to lax enforcement of rules designed to prevent the misrepresentation of certifications for marketing purposes. Switch says it will address these concerns in its own standard by creating an independent, non-profit organization called the Data Center Standards Foundation (DCSF) to oversee the certification process. Uptime officials deny that their program is influenced by the commercial concerns of its parent.
Part of the issue surrounding the Uptime ratings system may be its complexity. As Fortrust COO Robert McClary noted on Datacenter Frontier recently, the system is highly trustworthy but there are “nuances and details” that can make it difficult for outsiders to determine how the different elements of availability are being assessed. For instance, there are multiple tier certifications for operational sustainability, facility construction and design documentation, and the operational sustainability tier can be further designated as Gold, Silver or Bronze. So how are users supposed to distinguish between a Tier III facility rating vs. a Tier III Gold sustainability rating? There are ways to do this, of course, but it generally requires a deep dive analysis into the center’s capabilities – something that ratings systems are supposed obviate.
This may also lie at the heart of the results of the institute’s latest Data Center Industry Survey, which revealed sluggish adoption of cloud computing at a time when the desire for better IT resilience is on the rise. Over the past four years, in fact, the portion of organizations deploying IT assets in their own data center has remained steady at 65 percent, while 22 percent use a collocated or multi-tenanted facility and only 13 percent use the cloud. Matt Stansberry, the Uptime Institute’s senior director of content and publications, ascribed this to the difficulty of re-architecting legacy applications to the cloud, but it could also be influenced by uncertainty over the reliability of third-party infrastructure.
Ratings systems and professional evaluations are rampant in all corners of the technology industry, and many undoubtedly provide a valuable service for organizations looking to penetrate the unknowns of the cutting edge. But they should not be used as a replacement for good, old-fashioned legwork.
Even the most thorough classification model can only provide a generic view of a system’s capabilities, which will be of limited use to organizations seeking to craft highly customized environments over distributed architectures.
If you really want an optimal environment for your particular data needs, there is no substitute for doing your homework.
Editor's Note Below is a response from Lee Kirby, president of Uptime Institute:
“Uptime Institute is the author of and certification body for the world's most trusted data center performance standard and has been certifying data centers for over 20 years. To date, we have certified over 1000 data centers in over 85 countries. We provide the industry’s only quantitative management, operations and efficiency assessments using a time-proven methodology. And no one but Uptime Institute provides vendor neutrality, global consistency, and the necessary depth of data center expertise needed to efficiently design, build and manage IT infrastructure.
The Uptime Institute Tier Standards continue to grow, expand and innovate. Based on performance objectives and behaviors, the Tier Standards are flexible and embrace the market’s latest technology developments. New technologies and applications that have been certified by Uptime Institute range from unique approaches in cooling to new standards for management and operations, and sustainability innovation with Efficient IT. Because every data center is different, with varying complexities and issues based on variables like local characteristics or build parameters, Uptime Institute's Tier Standards are designed to be highly flexible in their approach, avoiding the need to be rewritten as the topology expands. Additionally, we train the backbone of the data center - offering courses worldwide with thousands of graduates from the most rigorous datacenter curriculum.
As an unbiased advisory organization, it is Uptime Institute’s mission to empower organizations to better design, build, maintain and optimize their business-critical infrastructure, networks and operations in order to drive business growth.
We’d also add that any non-profit driven and funded by a private entity with a specific agenda of its own isn't an unbiased organization.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.