The Uptime Institute is for data centers what the Underwriters Lab is for electrical appliances: An industry organization that issues widely accepted certificates about basic reliability.
In a significant break from past practices, on July 1 Uptime Institute changed how it will rate data centers in North America. If your enterprise is a customer of a commercial data center, you'll want to recheck your vendor's certification.
Uptime gives four tiers of certification. Tier III is the most common type. A Tier III datacenter has multiple delivery paths for power and cooling, along with redundant critical components. These features help insure the center's reliability while it is in use, and give customers some assurance that their cloud computing will be always available.
[ What could possibly go wrong? Read 7 Data Center Disasters You'll Never See Coming. ]
There are two types of Tier III certifications given. One is for design of a facility, and is based on the blueprints submitted. The second is awarded after the facility is built and inspected.
The problem for Uptime is that some of the owners of the data centers it has certified are overstating capabilities to their customers, based on the design certificate alone. They may not have gone back to Uptime and gotten another inspection after construction was finished. Things can change between the design and build phases, so use of the design certification by itself can be misleading for customers (if it isn't outright fraud).
In announcing the revisions on its website, Uptime said, "This amendment is made in response to increased scrutiny from industry groups, oversight mechanisms, and legal bodies in North America into the validity of Tier Certification of Design Documents in the commercial marketplace."
Gee, it seems someone has been looking at the Institute's past practices with a jaundiced -- and perhaps regulatory -- eye.
Uptime went on to explain in uplifting terms why it was making these changes: "This 1 July amendment is also undertaken in response to the recommendation from Tier Certification awardees, and clients of commercial data centers, for enhanced accountability."
Finally getting to the crux of the matter, Uptime admitted the misuse of certifications: "Uptime Institute is addressing the concern that a Tier Certification of Design Documents could be used to substantiate a data center that is designed to one Tier level and constructed and commissioned to another Tier level."
It seems the shell game is up for data center builders. What exactly are they going to do about the problem? And what do their customers need to know?
Uptime noted, "In the amended process for commercial data centers in North America, a letter will be awarded upon resolution of all outstanding Tier items evident in the design package. The foil and website listing for Tier Certification of Design Documents will be withheld until completion of Tier Certification of Constructed Facility. However, public acknowledgement of the achievement in the form of foil and website listing will occur upon completion of Tier Certification of Constructed Facility. This will ensure that Tier Certification of Design Documents does not misrepresent the functionality and capability of a built commercial data center (i.e., masking variances between the design and constructed facility)."
Translation: A data center won't get listed on the Institute website for design-only certs. This will hopefully reduce customer confusion and misinformation.