Folks, isn’t it time for our industry to grow up? Over the last decade, the data center service provider industry has formally, or in a de facto sense, implemented a variety of standards such as the Uptime Institute’s Tier system, ASHRAE TC 9.9, and the Green Grid’s PUE. Unfortunately, we’ve got some companies out there that are playing fast and loose with their compatibility and compliance claims. I guess there’s just too much temptation for certain folks to make claims on “standard” compliance when they know that they don’t strictly meet the standard at hand.  The perspective seems to be that they know what’s really important, and customers should just take their word for it.  This “trust me” approach places an undue burden on customers by forcing them to navigate between what is real and a provider’s standard-inspired puffery.

 

More than a Vendor’s Claims

A prime example of the “phantom” application of a standard is the Uptime Institute’s Tier system. Despite the broad acceptance of the standard, few data center providers have elected to have their designs and facilities actually certified by the Institute itself. This avoidance on the part of providers to actually having their claims validated by the developer of the specification itself is, while perhaps not malicious, a misrepresentation to prospective customers as to their facility’s fealty to the standard—or any standard for that matter.

This same level of compliant “non-compliance” can also be found in relation to many providers’ sustainability claims in which “built to LEED standards” has replaced actual certification. Once again this failure on the part of providers to validate their own claims negatively impacts the customer’s they wish to serve. By failing to provide objective evidence of their adherence to the documented standard they weaken the foundation upon which their prospective customers seek to make their decision.

 

My Data Center is Fully Tested—Isn’t It?

Commissioning is a multi-staged process that is designed to ensure that a data center operates as designed. Unfortunately, commissioning is often viewed by many providers as a “would be nice to have” event. Yes, that’s right, there are a lot of service providers who do NOT fully commission their data centers and expansions thereof.  A fully commissioned data center undergoes five (5) levels of testing. This must apply to each data hall that is added to a facility. Since many data center alternatives use a single MEP backplane where each new data center is “plugged into” the backplane as it is added Level 5 or system integration testing cannot be performed since power failure testing cannot be performed without bringing down all attached data halls. These sites typically advertise themselves as using a “phased growth approach”. Although commonly used, these architectural designs can only complete the first four levels of the commissioning process, and as a result are not fully commissioned sites. To claim otherwise only misleads the customer.

 

Hot Work

In many instances, standards provide insurance for both the customer and the site’s operations personnel. Over the past few years, the intense need to maximize the uptime of a facility has been used by many providers to justify an increasing level of “hot work”. Of course, a truly Tier 3 or Tier 4 Uptime certified facility would NEVER need to do “hot work”, but we already learned that not everyone’s Tier 3 claim is valid.  Hot work means that many operations that are to be performed in a non-powered environment are done on live components. These actions are extremely dangerous due to risk of arc flash and shock hazard, and they are against the law.

Think that you can’t afford the downtime during a circuit add, just wait until OSHA shuts you down for months due to your lack of concern for personnel when an injury or inspection occurs.  Unfortunately, in too many instances, it is still up to the customer to make the appropriate inquiries to ensure the health and well being of site personnel are factored into their operating procedures.

 

All the Power You Need…Until You Need it

Realizing that not every end user is operating at peak capacity, many providers use a practice referred to as “oversubscription” when contracting with their end users for power. In recent years, many providers have blurred the lines between wholesale and retail colocation.  Wholesale colocation is supposed to guarantee access to IT power throughout the lease term. That is no longer the case as many providers have blurred the lines between wholesale and retail.

In an oversubscribed situation, the provider’s guarantee for the power contracted for by the end user is based on the knowledge that, very often, not every end user is operating a peak capacity. Thus, the peak use of one is offset by the less intensive use by others within the facility. Unfortunately, in an oversubscribed mode, power can become a scarce commodity as the intensity of use for one of more tenants increases and ultimately leads to the provider being unable to deliver on the level of power contracted for. Many customers experienced the risk of oversubscription with their disaster recovery contracts (which commonly oversubscribe resources and allocate on a first come, first serve basis).  When Hurricane Sandy hit and the entire region went to use the limited pool of resources, some companies won, and some lost.

Furthermore, in mega facilities with multi megawatts of IT load, the core issue has to do with how this oversubscription is managed.  This is often a labor-intensive, spreadsheet based effort with many opportunities for human error.  These issues and practices are rarely explained to prospective customers prior to them signing a lease; they should be. The onus should not be on the prospective colocation customer to inquire about a practice they would not normally assume to be used in their new facility.

 

Conclusion

This pattern of devolution from industry standards, combined with corresponding practices that can be at best described as clever, place a greater burden on today’s data center customers. The value of standards and compliance for an industry form a uniform code of conduct that enables customers to have a level of confidence in all members as a whole. False or misleading claims only serve to hurt all of us. For the mission critical business, we’ve reached the point in our maturation that we need to decide what we want to be: an industry that customers view as playing by a standard set of rules, or one over populated by “used car salesmen”.

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