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Data centres play fast and loose with reliability credentials

James Niccolai | Nov. 21, 2013
How reliable is your data center service provider? Perhaps not as reliable as you think.

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How reliable is your data center service provider? Perhaps not as reliable as you think.

The Uptime Institute says some data centers are playing fast and loose with its "tiering" system for rating data center reliability, making false claims or at best being economical with the truth about how resilient their facilities are.

The upshot, the Institute says, is that some companies may be running important applications in data centers that are more susceptible to failure than is advertised, and they may get a rude awakening the next time a hurricane strikes or a transformer blows out in the local power grid.

"At a time when more enterprises are moving at scale to an outsourcing option, the stakes couldn't be higher," said Julian Kudritzki, Uptime Institute's chief operating officer, who along with a few data center operators is trying to raise awareness of the issue.

The Institute's tiering system is only one way of indicating data center resiliency, but it has become well known in the industry. It gives four tiers of certification, with Tier III the most common type awarded. A Tier III data center has multiple delivery paths for power and cooling, and redundant critical components, so that downtime is minimized and maintenance can be performed without taking the computing services offline.

Customers can be misled in a variety of ways. Some data centers imply they're Uptime certified when they're not, while others advertise their Uptime "design" certification, which shows only that the plans for a facility met certain criteria. Vendors are expected to follow that up with a "constructed facility" certification to verify the data center was built to spec, but many never do.

Complicating matters is that Uptime's "tier" language has become part of the industry vernacular. Some operators say they use it as a shorthand to convey a certain level of reliability, and that they're not trying to intentionally mislead customers.

Not surprisingly, data centers that have made the investment to get certified don't buy that argument.

"It's a bit of sleight of hand," said Chris Crosby, founder of Compass Datacenters.

Two of Compass' data centers are Tier III constructed facilities, and Crosby wants the system better policed so that the credentials remain meaningful. In the long run, he argues, better policing is good for the rest of the industry, too. More and more customers are outsourcing their computer operations, and if enterprises start to think they can't trust their service provider, the commercial data center industry as a whole will suffer, he says.

Users need to educate themselves about the various certifications and press commercial data centers to verify their credentials, Kudritzki said. "The counsel is 'buyers beware.'"


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