The Value of Tier Certification Explained:
The Global Digital Infrastructure Standard
Patrick Chan – June 7, 2021
Defining the availability and reliability of your critical digital infrastructure
When business operations rely on uninterrupted digital infrastructure, chances cannot be taken. And when investing millions of dollars in your data centers, you want to be certain each is designed, built, and managed for maximum availability and performance, minimizing downtime due to human errors and their remediation. Uptime Institute’s Tier Classification System is the globally recognized standard for data center performance, with over 1,900 Certifications for Data Center Design, Construction, and Operational Sustainability issued in over 108 countries. Uptime Institute’s Tier Certification is the industry standard for data center reliability.
The need for Tier Certification
Tier Standards are an unbiased set of infrastructure and operating criteria that are unique in the industry for their rigor and comprehensiveness. No other credential carries the weight and stature of the Tier Certification, and no other data center standard is actually certified by the standard’s author itself.
When it comes to the workings of core infrastructure systems – the beating heart of your data center – and the knowledge to operate and maintain them most effectively. Uptime Institute is the globally recognized worldwide authority.
Tier Certification is Accountability
Tier Certification recognized organizational accomplishment – the data center capital investment will yield sustained uptime to support the business. Weakness in the data center infrastructure translates to lost capital investment. Tier Certification assures all stakeholders that the data center investment has been protected against such loss.
Tier Certification also recognizes industry achievement – a competitive differentiator from self-certifications that are often misleading. Tier Certifications elevate a data center to a preeminent and highly visible position in the industry. Tier Certification satisfies the need for an unbiased, due diligence assessment, thereby raising client confidence and reducing the duration and cost of the contracting process.
Uptime Institute Tier Certification is unique in the industry in its rigor and comprehensiveness, differing from several other compliance assessments that rely on a sampling or representative analysis. Tier Certification provides an analysis of each and every system down to the level of valve positions and panel feeds.
Tier Certification provides assurances that there are no shortfalls or weak links anywhere in the data center infrastructure. There is no effective way to ensure consistency in engineering concepts at the detailed level and allow for shortcuts and substitutes. The Tier Certification process was developed with the consequences of failure in mind- in terms of infrastructure investment and market perception.
Tier Certification seamlessly incorporates into the project schedule. The process ensures that deficiencies in the design are identified, solved, and tested before operations commence.
Operational Sustainability is the final phase, to identify the behaviors and risks beyond design, and construction that impact the ability of a data center to perform over the long term. Operational Sustainability Certification recognizes operational excellence and mitigation of operator errors – the leading cause of data center outages.
Explaining Uptime Institute’s Tier Classification System
Uptime Institute created the standard Tier Classification System to consistently evaluate various data center facilities in terms of potential site infrastructure performance, or uptime.
As defined in Uptime Institute’s Tier Standard: Topology and Tier Standard: Operational Sustainability, each Tier level (I through IV) has a set of associated performance criteria. These can be met by a wide variety of technology and engineering solutions.
Tier Certification ensures that facilities are held to the same consistent standards of performance measurement worldwide. Tiers are progressive, each Tier incorporates the requirements of all the lower levels.
Tier I: Basic Capacity – A Tier I data center infrastructure is designed to support business information technology (IT) needs beyond an office setting. This means there is a dedicated space for IT systems and must include an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and dedicated cooling equipment that will not get shut down at the end of normal office hours.
Tier II: Redundant Capacity Components – Tier II facilities are designed to provide an increased margin of safety against IT process disruptions and enable some regular maintenance activities to be done without interrupting live operations. Key elements of a Tier II data center are redundant critical power and cooling components, such as UPS modules, chillers or pumps and engine generators or some other back up power supply.
Tier III: Concurrently Maintainable – A Tier III data center is designed to run without interruption. It does not need to shut down for equipment replacement and maintenance. Redundant delivery pathways for power and cooling are added to the redundant critical components of Tier II. If your business relies on 24 x 7 IT availability, Tier III ensures that each and every component needed to support the digital environment can be shut down and maintained without impact on live operation.
Tier IV: Fault Tolerance – Tier IV site infrastructure builds on the capabilities of Tier III and adding the concept of Fault Tolerance. Tier IV is the highest level of availability, performance, and resilience that a data center can achieve, designed to support mission-critical operations.
Fault Tolerance means that when an individual piece of equipment fails or a distribution path interruption occurs, the effects of the event are stopped short and prevented from ever impacting critical IT operations. Operations are fine-tuned to ensure effective and seamless maintenance, operations, and response to any fault.
Figure 1 captures a summary of Uptime Institute Tier Topology Certifications system.
Which Tier is Best? Tier III or Tier IV?
Tier I and Tier II are considered tactical solutions and usually applied to less critical needs. Organizations at these levels typically do not depend on real-time delivery of products or services for a significant part of their revenue stream.
Tiers III and IV are strategic solutions, usually applied to essential business service applications for organizations with rigorous uptime requirements, where business continuity, contractual or service level requirements, and long-term viability are important. These organizations know the business cost of a disruption – in terms of actual dollars- and the impact to market share and ongoing mission imperatives.
Mapping business objectives to Tiers
Data center infrastructure costs and operational complexities increase at each progressive Tier Level, as more investment is required in equipment and staffing. It is up to the data center owner to determine the Tier Level that fits the business need.
- Can your organization afford to take the computer room down to perform infrastructure maintenance (planned downtime)?
If yes, Tier I or Tier II
If no, Tier III or Tier IV
- Can your organization afford unplanned downtime for your computer room?
If yes, Tier III
If no, Tier IV
No level is “better” than another, matching infrastructure to the business needs in performance ensures companies are not over-invested or taking on too much risk.
Tier Certification Process – Start with the End in Mind
Rigorous certification supports business continuity
The world’s leading colocation and enterprise data center organizations rely on Uptime Institute for guidance. Like them, you can protect the foundation of your vital digital business infrastructure by obtaining Tier Certification.
The Tier process starts at the design phase, then continues through construction and commissioning, culminating with certification of ongoing operational effectiveness (see figure 2).
The Tiers are designated as levels I through IV with progressive criteria for power, cooling, maintenance, and redundancy to match different functional and performance standards required by the business. Tier levels allow your organization to align data center infrastructure investment and operating practices with your specific business mission, growth and technology strategies, and your uptime needs.
Tier Certification of Design Documents (TCDD) recognizes the potential (as designed) infrastructure (topology) functionality and capacity of your data center. Based on a thorough review of your architectural and engineering plans, TCDD validates that the facility and system design is consistent with your uptime objectives for a new project. It ensures that your organization’s significant capital investment yields the desired result.
Receiving TCDD is an important first step to earning Tier Certification of Constructed Facility.
Tier Certification of Constructed Facility (TCCF) ensures that your facility has been constructed as designed and verifies that it can meet your defined availability requirements. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and common construction phase practices or value engineering proposals can compromise the original design intent. The TCCF process includes a site visit (currently by remote/hybrid) with live demonstrations. We road test your system function under full load, validating that the facility can deliver the performance you require.
TCCF ensures that your approved designs have been properly executed in the built facility environment, with no errors or oversights. The TCCF process is often the most comprehensive Quality Assurance check that a facility receives before Go Live. Organizations know that they can rely on Uptime Institute to ensure data center capability and performance.
Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability (TCOS) verifies that site management and operations practices and procedures are in place to keep your data center humming. It ensures that your organization is taking the right steps to avoid preventable errors and maintain performance on an ongoing basis.
Achieving TCOS ensures that your operations are in alignment with performance requirements and availability expectations to support the business mission. Following the Operational Sustainability standards, you avoid expending more resources than necessary by focusing efforts where they matter most. TCOS demonstrates to stakeholders and the market the effectiveness of your facility management practices and risk mitigation.
Recognizing that a data center environment is never static, TCOS awards expire after three years (Gold), two years (Silver) or one year (Bronze). Companies that recertify with Uptime Institute on a regular basis have experienced continued improvements in performance and efficiency.
Tier Certification Process & Timeline
Tier Certification specifically applies to – and recognizes – functionality and capacity that is demonstrated on the design documents for Tier Certification of Design Documents, and infrastructure that is installed/implemented during the site visit for Tier Certification of Constructed Facility.
Tier Certification of Design Documents
Uptime Institute team of consultants reviews 100% of drawings in our offices.
- Tier issues are documented without incurring travel time and expense.
- Tier deficiencies are delivered via PDF report.
- A second review is included to close resolved issues. A working session is recommended to support this second review.
- The successful completion of the review culminates with Uptime Institute awarding a letter and foil of Tier Certification of Design Documents.
- Kickoff meeting is initiated with the objective to introduce both of Uptime Institute Project Management Office and Technical Consultant who will address any concerns/issues with you and your team in this project moving forward.
- Coordination of design drawing delivery
- Emails of full design document package sent to Uptime Institute offices
- Review of documents
- Report writing
- Delivery of report to Client via locked PDF document
- Teleconference to ensure understanding of report findings
- Revision of drawings by design team to address identified issues
- Review of revised drawings to validate that all outstanding Tier issues have been resolved
- Letter and foil of Design Certification awarded
Tier Certification of Constructed Facility
Uptime Institute’s team of consultants gathers data onsite over multiple days to validate the facility’s Tier objective.
- Consultants confirm that the facility was constructed as designed and Tier objectives will be met
- Site functionality demonstrations are observed
- The successful completion on the on-site review culminates with the Uptime Institute awarding a letter, foil, and plaque of Tier Certification of Constructed Facility
- Kickoff meeting is initiated with the objective of introducing both the Uptime Institute Project Management Office and Technical Consultant who will address any concerns/issues with you and your team in the project moving forward
- Preparation of functionality demonstration list
- Coordination of remote/hybrid/on site-visit
- Team deployed to data center site location where permissible, remote or hybrid deployment is also an alternative
- Remote/Hybrid/On-site assessment of installed infrastructure equipment and observations of site functionality
- Team returns to offices for debrief to Client
- Data analysis and report writing conducted in offices
- Reports delivered to Client in locked PDF file
- Teleconference is conducted to ensure understanding of report findings
- Letter, foil, and plaque of Facility of Certification is awarded
Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability Certification.
Uptime Institute’s team of consultants reviews data remotely over multiple days to evaluate the effectiveness of each component of management, operations and building characteristics.
- Consultants review Tier Certification deliverables
- Site Location risk assessed via remote virtual teleconference
- Remote on-line assessment to validate specific behaviors and risks
- Deficiencies and recommendations are delivered via PDF report
- The successful completion of the review culminates with Uptime Institute awarding of a letter, foil, and plaque of Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability
- A kickoff meeting is initiated with the objective of introducing both the Uptime Institute Project Management Office and Technical Consultant who will address any concerns/issues with you and your team in this project moving forward.
- Coordination of site visit
- Review of Tier Certification, site location risks, and preparation of agenda and needs list
- Team deployed remotely to data center to site location
- Site tour, staff meetings, and assessment of behaviors and risks, survey of local area to identify site location risks; debrief management – all done remotely via virtual teleconference
- Team returns to offices for debrief to client
- Data analysis and reporting writing conducted in offices
- Reports delivered to Client in locked PDF file
- Letter, foil, and plaque of Operational Sustainability Certification is awarded
Tier Certification Value Summary
Uptime Institute’s Topology and Operational Tier Standard has been created to assure any organization can meet its required levels of business by relying on a predictable level of performance in the data center. With over 25 years of incident data across more than one thousand data centers to draw from, Uptime Institute’s Tier Standard creates a data center environment that is both predictable for business needs and economical to operate.
Uptime Institute Tier Certifications are more robust than other compliance or benchmarking systems that rely on sampling, representative analysis, or self-assessment. They serve as a common standard throughout the industry and have stood the test of time for more than 25 years, easily embracing new technologies while remaining the preeminent benchmark of performance.
Does the industry find value in Tier Certification? The clearest evidence is the list of companies investing in Tier Certification. It is easy to claim Tier compliance and a wholly different matter to lay your solution open to a rigorous review by Uptime Institute. There are more Tier Certifications underway at this moment than any other point in the 25+ year history of the Tier Standard.
See the full list of Tier Certification awards for yourself: https://uptimeinstitute.com/uptime-institute-awards/list
Operating as a Tier Certified data center is proven to lower your risk of unplanned outages, cost of operations and safeguard your IT infrastructure from human errors and associated downtime. In fact, many insurance companies have now recognized the unique rigor and risk management impact of Uptime Institute’s Tier Certification through their reduced premiums (refer to figure 3).