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Data Centre Standards – There needs to be a clear message

Date: 5th January 2016
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This was first published in the November edition of Data Centre Solutions Europe, but if you missed it catch up below.

The data centre sector continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, however a lack of consistent industry-wide standards is creating confusion for anyone trying to assess or compare the overall quality of individual facilities. Keysource, the critical environment specialists, calls for greater clarification.

There are currently several organisations working on behalf of the data centre sector that offer their own industry standards, each of which have made valuable in-roads towards promoting best practice. The Uptime Institute has certified around 170 data centres under its tiered system, while The Green Grid has witnessed a widespread adoption of its PUE scoring. The European Commission set up the EU Code of Conduct to encourage best practice, whereas The Data Centre Alliance (DCA) offers data centre owners and operators the opportunity to gain certification of their facility using an independent audit process. In addition, there are a number of other classifications and standards such as BSEN 50600 (which the DCA aligns with), TIA942 and the BICSI002-2014.

Whilst the work delivered by these organisations has had a positive effect, the industry has ultimately suffered due to a lack of transparent industry-wide standards that can be adopted by all stakeholders to assess the overall quality of any given facility. As a result, the industry is rife with conflicting views and this confusion looks set to continue.

For example, data centre developers do not have a common set of standards to ask designers, builders and operators to adhere to. In addition, operators cannot lay claim to meeting a concrete set of industry standards when advertising their facilities. This means that those purchasing services naturally find it difficult to distinguish between data centres that are designed, built and critically; operated, to a high standard and those that are not. At present, an organisation may choose to pay a professional to independently audit a facility, however any results are derived from only one particular consultant at one specific time. This is compounded by the service level requirements associated with managed or cloud service provision where customers are not simply buying data centre space.

In the current landscape, it is difficult for organisations to determine the suitability of a data centre or a service provider, and in many cases they just have to rely on what they are being told, which is obviously not the best approach. The Uptime Institute has made a big impact with its tiered system, however many providers are using it as a marketing ploy, and the Institute is now, understandably, having to clamp down on organisations that are exploiting it.

The Institute has led the way on certification, particularly in the case of resilience. However many customers request Tier III without knowing quite what it means.

In reality, customers will have different availability, density, and performance requirements for different applications. Combined with modular data centre design and multiple tenant and hall fit out, an overall facility could be very different. This therefore highlights the need for a more flexible approach to how we design and certify data centres, especially when the increased Capex needed to achieve greater levels of resilience, such as a certified Tier IV constructed facility, can be significant.

So what is the answer? Just to be clear, this is definitely not about developing new standards but rather helping to create some clarity and common understanding of the performance of data centres for all aspects of the industry.

An independent not for profit organisation, such as the Data Centre Alliance in the UK, is putting in place a framework to develop a consistent approach. Being funded by the industry, it also provides an opportunity for those who operate in this space to share their views and help shape this approach so that it works well in practice.

The approach being pursued by the Data Centre Alliance seems to be working, notwithstanding that at the moment there is much work to do and progress, and adoption, can be slow. A key part of this approach is to ensure governance, scrutiny and transparency are applied not just when an organisation is being audited but that the very audits and technical standards used for certification are robust. By not creating new standards but utilising existing ones, the DCA is not claiming anything new. Instead, it is providing a comprehensive approach to the certification of the data centre as a whole and not just one part.

Another key benefit of the DCA approach is that it has been designed to be affordable. Whilst other certifications are, in some aspects, more detailed or technical, and we would still encourage customers in certain situations to consider these, the DCA certification model means it is accessible not just to a few large IT firms or operators but to end users and in particular the public sector. This will hopefully serve to generate widespread demand and adoption and protect the DCA certification from becoming simply a badge for a select few.

With the continued globalisation of the industry, prompted by the growth of new data centre markets, particularly in South America, Asia and the Middle East, the need for industry-wide standards to help align different regions is more important than ever. A greater level of transparency is required across the sector and it is up the entire industry to work together in a bid to achieve this important goal.

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