Uptime Institute
You may have heard people talk about Tier I, II, III or IV data centres. You may even understand in considerable detail what those four tiers indicate. But have you ever stopped to wonder who or what set out the Tier Standards for data centres? The organisation behind these standards is the Uptime Institute.

Maximising efficiency and uptime

Founded in 1993 by Kenneth Brill, the Uptime Institute was conceived as a consortium of companies that came together to maximise efficiency and ‘uptime’ in data centres around the world. It is now an independent division of the 451 Group, having been acquired by the group in 2009. It operates as an independent advisory organisation, working to improve performance, efficiency and reliability of data centres, which it describes as the ‘business-critical infrastructure that underlies today’s global economy’.

Like many other advisory organisations, the Uptime Institute works across a wide range of stakeholders, including anyone interested in IT service availability. Its services include setting  industry standards, education, consulting and opportunities for peer-to-peer networking. But it is perhaps best known for the Tier Standards for data centres.

The Tier Classifications were originally designed to define site infrastructure performance, and were published in a white paper as far back as the late 1990s. The four tiers are:

  • Tier I – basic site infrastructure, which is non-redundant;
  • Tier II – site infrastructure with some redundancy built into various components;
  • Tier III – the site infrastructure can be maintained concurrently; and
  • Tier IV – the site infrastructure is fault-tolerant, and therefore as reliable as possible.

These four tiers therefore represent increasingly reliable infrastructure that will deliver more certainty of guaranteed ‘uptime’.

The tier certification is only about the physical set-up of the data centre, and the infrastructure that directly affects the computer room operation. However, the Uptime Institute also awards certification in Operational Sustainability, which looks more widely across the data centre, considering the risks and behaviours that affect data centres beyond physical infrastructure. These include management and operations,  such as staffing presence and maintenance issues. They also cover building characteristics and site location, including risks such as flooding and power access.

Data centres are certified at one of three levels for operational sustainability, Gold, Silver and Bronze. Gold centres have realised or even exceeded their full uptime potential. Silver centres have some opportunities to improve to realise the full operational potential of the site. Bronze centres have considerable improvement opportunities available to them. The operational sustainability certification is added to the tier classification to give an overall operational classification of, for example, Tier IV Gold.

Recognising and celebrating IT efficiency and innovation

Anyone reasonable might consider that this stable of awards was enough for any organisation. But the Uptime Institute decided in 2013 that there was scope for a more flexible series of awards that would celebrate innovation and efficiency. It therefore announced the creation of the Brill Awards, named after the Institute’s founder.

These are designed to recognise IT efficiency in the broadest sense of the word: products, organisations and technologies that help to increase energy productivity and resource use in IT. They are awarded to companies and technologies that improve the data centre industry’s ability to deliver sustainable IT services to end-users.

There are five categories of IT efficiency included: data centre design, operational data centre upgrade, data centre facilities management, IT systems efficiency, and product solutions. The awards are made in four geographical areas, North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa, and the judges have the discretion to award up to 20 Brill Awards across the four geographic areas, if they see fit.

These awards are certainly different from the certification programmes, which recognise sustained effort to meet certain standards. The Brill Awards, instead, showcase and celebrate innovation and ideas that will improve the data centre of the future. They are about no less than shaping the future of the data centre industry, and as such, a win is highly prestigious.

The go-to resource for reliability and efficiency, at a price

The Uptime Institute has positioned itself carefully over the last 20 years as the go-to resource for those wishing to maximise their data centre efficiency and reliability. From the tier certification and operational sustainability standards to the Brill Awards, the Uptime Institute recognises and celebrates innovation and efficiency. However, the fact that data centres have to pay a $50,000 fee to be ‘certified’ somewhat diminishes an otherwise noble history.

Image credit: Green is green is green by zeh.hah.es.

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