Uptime Certification Funny Business: Design vs. Construction


Are these two certifications the same? In fact, they’re different, according to executives from Compass and the Uptime Institute.

What does it mean to be Tier-Certified? Misleading language and confusion over what it means to be “Design Certified,” versus “Construction Certified,” means that the customer may not always know what they are getting.

Some industry leaders believe the confusion around Uptime Institute Tier Certification has reached the point that it reflects poorly on the entire industry. Compass Datacenters CEO Chris Crosby and Uptime Institute COO Julian Kudritzki are seeking to shine a spotlight on the issue, in hopes that it helps clean up the problem and helps customers protect themselves. They recently spoke with Data Center Knowledge about their concerns.

Both Crosby and Kudritzki argue that misleading language around Tier Certification is becoming more common.

“A ton of guys that claim a tier level, but don’t have Certification,” said Crosby. “As a customer you have to go in and figure it all out. As the industry matures, those claims become more meaningful.”

Tier Certification on the Rise

Tier Certification is an important issue, particularly in light of two trends: the increasing standardization of the industry as a whole, and the recent trend of multi-tenant data center providers seeking Certification.

Uptime Institute created the standard Tier Classification System to evaluate data center infrastructure in terms of a business’ requirements for system availability. The Tier Classification System provides the data center industry with a consistent method to compare facilities based on expected site infrastructure performance, or uptime. Uptime defines four Tiers, with I being the least reliable and Tier IV being the most reliable.

Uptime Institute offers paid certification of a data center’s Tier level, which aims to do three things:

  • Verify benefits defined within a standard are actually delivered.
  • Act as an insurance policy for the customer.
  • Provide binary evaluative criteria for customers

The Uptime Institute has awarded 278 certifications around the world. But the lion’s share of those certifications – 218 of them – have been based upon design documents rather than actual operational data center buildings. Just 67 have thus far completed certification of a completed facility. About 62 percent of operators that have received design certification and expected to eventually certify their completed data center.

Standardization occurs as an industry becomes commercial. “If I look back on my career, when the baby Bells deregulated there was a big influx of new equipment providers,” said Crosby. “You were NEBS (Network Equipment Building System) compliant or you weren’t. Data centers are similarly going to be consumer compliant. We’ve grown up as an industry. Having third parties come in to certify is the logical evolution. When it truly becomes commercial, from a consumer perspective, that’s when the certification comes in.”

In the data center industry, there are several ways to certify. In addition to the Uptime Institute Tier Standard, ASHRAE 9.9, LEED cetification and Power Usage Effectiveness are needed, according to Crosby and Kudritzki. Standards and third-party certification are hallmarks of a maturing industry.

Blueprint vs. Build

More and more data center providers are talking about how their data center builds are Certified, sometimes giving the impression that they have gone through the rigorous certification process for a completed structure, when in fact they only have a Design Certification for the blueprint. The design certification for the blueprint is a much lower threshold to meet, and this presents some problems. If you have a Design Certification, but build differently than that, this presents an issue.

There are only two wholesale providers with Constructed certified facilities in the US: Compass data centers with two, and Digital Realty with one. Why the disparity?

Meeting full Construction Certification is a much higher standard. “The disconnect is that many customers believe that this is what they’re getting,” said Crosby. “It’s builders taking advantage of customer confusion about the different types of Certification. It’s a deceptive practice that means customers aren’t getting what they paid for.”

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About the Author

Jason Verge is an Editor/Industry Analyst on the Data Center Knowledge team with a strong background in the data center and Web hosting industries. In the past he’s covered all things Internet Infrastructure, including cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), mass market hosting, managed hosting, enterprise IT spending trends and M&A. He writes about a range of topics at DCK, with an emphasis on cloud hosting.

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  1. We've seen this same issue with "tier" marketing. In fact, we've also brought some of the more egregious examples to Uptime. I hope that Uptime decides to take this issue seriously and penalize those who have made obvious attempts to dupe the customer into believing that a "Tier III" design cert is actually a "Tier III" data center.

  2. While I agree with the misuse of the ‘TIER’ marketing term, I also want to highlight Uptimes roll in this. In the article several standards are mentioned like NEBS, LEED, and others. These standards are created and maintained like this: - Public call for experts. Anyone can join and provide input. - After initial creation of the standard, anyone can provide feedback. - The final standard is, in full, available to anyone. This way owners, users and auditors know in full what to expect. - The standard is than available to be audited by anyone. - The standard is open to continues feedback. TIER on the other hand is an Uptime exclusive. While the initial whitepapers have served its purpose to standardize and mature the industry (kudos to Uptime), the missing transparency in the exact content of the TIER ‘standard’ and the associated ‘pay wall’ hasn't. I understand that a ‘rigorous certification process’ has its associated cost, but if Uptime really likes to advance the use of TIER and avoid the misuse, then it shouldn't be an Uptime exclusive. So in the spirit of Open Compute and other ‘open’ strategies that are always associated with moving a commodity market: - Open the TIER spec’s to the general audience. Just like real standard specs are available for everyone. - Provide a way to handle feedback from the community, to mature the standard. This goes beyond the Uptime membership. - Open the audit & certification part to external auditors. Just like BREEAM and LEED handle this.

  3. One point of clarification - Compass and DLR are not the only third party operators with a certified constructed Tier III data center. DBT-DATA also has a new 4,500kW Tier III certified data center that it has recently brought to market in VA. (http://www.trapppartners.com/DBTDATA/DBT_CyberIntegrationFacility.pdf). As the sector matures, transparency through these types of certifications will enhance an end-user's ability to qualify and compare colocation providers. End-users should view the certification process as not dissimilar from a UL listing on various mechanical and electrical components.

  4. The Uptime Institute should be applauded for bringing definition to an industry that is not easy to define. The concept of Tiers brings some tangible way for a data center buyer to understand what he is actually buying. The problem, as pointed out by Chris, is that UI isn't a policing agency, and other than suing for improper use of its trademarks, there is not much they can do about it. I do agree that paying for a certification is one way to do it, but like Jan, I am an Open Compute sort of guy and you would think that there was a better/ alternative way. The real solution is that the consumer is going to have to take ownership of what he/she actually wants and learn to see what is really there or is not. Consumers should ask to see one-lines. Consumers should learn to ask hard questions. Consumers should learn to count things like UPS systems, ATS, generators etc. then "do the math" for themselves. Consumers should ask to see both telecom vaults and pathways. And so on and so on. But I am not sure how we can expect consumers to understand it all if our own data center "experts" can't get it right either. There is nothing worse than to appear on an RFP, prepared by a consultant, broker or advisor, with "unlike" data centers. We find ourselves saying things like, "well Mr. Customer, we cost more because we are actually 2N and those other guys really are not." instead of selling value in our company. Or, "no sir we don't have three-substations, but neither do the other guys." Our own industry could do itself a giant favor by truly understanding various data center architectures, the values each bring, and the differences from one to another........in the mean time, yeah maybe just having a third-party put a stamp on your data center makes sense.

  5. michael Tang

    uptime tier andard, is the standard is not a technical standards, it's performance standard, especially it's operation and maintaining opportunities performance standards. Normally, when we say standard, firstly we see technical standard, there are exact item about technical parameters. For product we need technical standards for unifying and comparing. Tier standard is owner's standard, they only define performance target, they didn't require exact technical solution and parameter. As data center facilities owner real operation and maintainance demand, they define four tier crossponding different facilities availabity. I think, this is biggest misundertanding, most of people didn't understand the real tier standard. I suggest owners to understand the tier standard, then require your vendor or integrator of data centerffacilities to find a best way to get tier target.