Hank Seader, PE
Principal, Blackdog CFS
Those in the data center “industry” who know the Principals at Blackdog CFS, and anyone who has read the bios at this website, know that we were, in a previous association, heavily invested in the Uptime Institute (Institute) Tier Program. The Institute program addresses data center Topology and Operational Sustainability concepts, and certification protocols for both segments of the program. Although we of Blackdog CFS no longer represent the Institute, nor directly influence its Tier Standards, we have not forgotten why the standards were developed and who they serve.
The Uptime Institute holds on to its prerogatives over the “Tiers” tenaciously, if not jealously. Seek out the discussions between the Uptime Institute and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) for a recent example. In my view, most of the industry’s negative response to Institute Tiers is primarily due to this factor. The topology criteria are not complicated, but are far-reaching - and exceptionally inconvenient to those seeking short cuts. The operational behaviors are clearly enumerated but require recurring spending on staff development and infrastructure maintenance - which goes against the grain of budget cuts and deferred costs. Pressure from some engineers, vendors, manufacturers, and even the occasional owner-operator (for whom the Standards best serve) to “ease up” or allow exceptions, are met with resolute resistance within the Institute. It is the Institute’s commitment to the integrity of the Tier Standards that make them valuable.
Another source of industry complaint stems not from the Standards, but how they were initially explained. Once-upon-a-time, the white paper introducing the Institute Tier concepts spoke in terms of the characteristics seen in “tactical” (Tier I and Tier II) versus “strategic” (Tier III and Tier IV) infrastructure investments, correlated to low-cost versus high-performance objectives. These characteristics were clues to identifying then-existing examples of infrastructure investment rather than the criteria for each of the four Tiers. Access floor height, watts/FT², percent availability, and other “indicators” did not define Tier level but gave clues to what was behind the investment. I find it ironic that there are those today that condemn Institute Tiers as outdated, using these examples the Institute abandoned nearly a decade ago. The concepts of redundancy, concurrent maintainability, and fault tolerance, the actual foundation of the four Tier Levels, are as relevant now as ever - and will remain so for the future.
The enduring value of the Institute Tiers is that they do not prescribe any technology, configuration, or specific management solution. Any such approach would likely be outdated before the publication review cycle was completed. Designs and facilities have been successfully certified as concurrently maintainable having either static or dynamic Uninterruptible Power Sources. System + System UPS and engine-generator designs provide an easily understood fault-tolerant topology, but N+1 systems have been shown to meet fault tolerant criteria as well. There is nothing in the Tier Topology Standard that disallows fuel cells or wind turbines as site power sources - such systems just have to meet the appropriate concurrently maintainable or fault-tolerant criteria that applies to the Tier objective. A programmed-maintenance management solution receiving an Operational Sustainably Certification based on Post-It Notes® and spreadsheets was and remains just as acceptable, and effective, as one based on commercially licensed Computerized Maintenance Management software. The Tier Standards can continue to include emerging innovations that lead to intentional, rigorous, performance-based infrastructure and operations solutions as long as the solutions fulfill the Standard’s criteria.
The vernacular of Tiers is a steadfast benefit for the industry, whether used broadly or specifically, which has always been an intended outcome of creating the Tier program. Senior IT and Finance executives know that Tier I infers simple infrastructure with a less expensive implementation, while Tier IV is a sophisticated topology with a cost to match. Data Center engineers know that a Tier I design can be mostly delegated to manufacturer sales representatives, while a Tier IV design will require senior, experienced design staff, focused on detailed integration between disciplines. In both cases, the Tier vernacular provides for succinct communication, appropriately setting expectations with both audiences. Effective communication between facility professionals, corporate executives, and consulting engineers is why the Institute was engaged to describe the four tiers of performance and investment that is now the Tier Standard: Topology.
Blackdog Critical Facilities Solutions Principals are careful to avoid stepping over organizational boundaries in the Institute’s discharge of the Tier Program. And the Institute’s lawyers have been watching Blackdog CFS carefully over the past year to make sure we don’t. Fortunately for the industry, the concepts of redundancy, concurrent maintenance, fault tolerance, comprehensive training, disciplined procedures, and fully engaged management are open to anyone and everyone. Blackdog CFS chose a different direction than the Institute was heading that allows us the opportunity to work closely with our clients to implement these concepts on a highly interactive basis we find very rewarding. The Uptime Institute Tier Standards and certification program remain one important tool that enables owners, operators, and consumers of IT facility infrastructure to reach their business objectives. Blackdog CFS will continue to support the program, though at an arm’s length, for the foreseeable future. However, as useful as the Institute Tier program has become, it is the concepts that underlie the program that data center operators need to understand and employ to achieve their continuous computing objectives.
About Us: Blackdog CFS (www.blackdogcfs.com ) is a Veteran Owned Business that provides industry-leading data center infrastructure and management consulting services. Our goal is to utilize our time-proven approach to critical facility operations to help your company realize your critical facility infrastructure operational continuity objectives.