Paper Tiger Data Center

Is your data center a paper tiger?

Unfortunately, the answer is "almost certainly"

You might be surprised to learn that your data center, the facility that supports the systems enabling every task of the organization, is almost certainly a "Paper Tiger" that looks more robust than it is.

Touring data centers is a reassuring experience. Data center operators are eager to showcase their facilities. The biometric security scanners, uninterruptible power supplies, spotlessly clean server rooms, and of course the massive generators, create a very reassuring impression. But how close is this impression to reality?

But both private and commercial data centers do fail. Years of uptime come to an abrupt end with the sudden discovery of a "weakest link" in the facility's infrastructure that previously escaped the notice of the data center operator and hundreds of client tours.

How do you know if the data center you just toured is different?

If the only person vouching for a data center's design is the same person that's trying to sell you space, that alone should be sufficient cause for concern. Every industry has standards, benchmarks that allow objective comparison between one and another. The Uptime Institute's Tier standard is the benchmark that helps companies seeking colocation or hosting facilities determine the reliability of a data center.

These standards provide a clear and unequivocal benchmark for comparison of all data centers. An uncertified data center is a "Paper Tiger" whose impressive appearance creates misleading reassurances of uptime potential, security, and resiliency. These reassurances are frequently not supported by the reality of the facility design. A facility that is not designed for high availability cannot reasonably be expected to achieve it.

The Certification process is rigorous. OnePartner has completed the process, and even with a data center designer and manager on staff with 18 years of experience, there were still some revelations. The Certification review uncovered forty design modifications which would have prevented the OnePartner ATAC data center's design from achieving Tier III performance.

The least expensive commercial data centers require multimillion dollar investments while the cost of certification is typically less than 1% of the construction costs - you have to wonder why every facility wouldn't invest in the ability to ensure data center uptime and provide peace-of-mind to their clients.

The Tier standards are well-known and commonly used, yet few commercial data center operators request Certification reviews and fewer still publish the resulting Certifications. Why?

Julian Kudritzki, Certification Manager for Uptime Institute Professional Services, shares a recent experience that sheds light on a possible answer. Two data centers, which had previously claimed Tier IV or 'close to it', completed the Certification process last December.

Both received a Tier I Certification.

Understandably, neither organization chose to publish the true Tier level of their data center.

These data centers face a conundrum. Retrofitting an existing data center to meet Tier III or IV levels can require a substantial expense. More importantly, a retrofit usually requires service disruptions for any existing data center occupants. The result? The majority of commercial and private data centers are "Paper Tigers". They appear secure and resilient, with cameras, uninterruptible power supplies, arrays of monitors and clean server rooms, but appearances are deceiving. Time bears out the truth of the data center's design and failure inevitably results.

History doesn't count

Some data center operators try to back into a Tier standard. A data center operator that has successfully operated for years without a failure cannot claim a Tier level based upon this performance. At any moment, a previously undiscovered weakest link can bring uninterrupted service to a surprising end. Also, how is that data center operator defining an outage? Is that definition favorable to the operator or the client/end-user? OnePartner lives by the most rigorous of definitions: a power and cooling interruption to a single piece of computing equipment on the raised floor is an outage.

In today's world where investments must be carefully chosen, why take a chance with a data center that is not designed to protect one of your organization's most valuable assets-your information systems? Organizations like Uptime Institute are here to hold data center providers to a higher standard, benefitting end users with more reliable colocation and hosting options. The importance of the industry as a whole participating in certification evaluation is imperative not only to the reputation of the industry but to those seeking proven and successful vendors to meet their needs.

If you're going to place your organization's most important assets in any facility, insist on certification. Without it the facility is not worthy of your trust.