Are You Asking the Right Questions: Standards
As industries mature they tend to adopt standards. These are typically best practices that have been formally adopted that provide customers with a level of assurance that the product they are purchasing meets a proscribed level of measurement for performance, safe operations, etc. Customers rely on standards as a method of performing comparative analysis on competing suppliers. By providing a common method of comparison, standards help insulate customers from the need to make their decisions on solely on the basis of the claims of a provider. Over the years, the data center industry has formally, or in a de facto sense, implemented a variety of standards such as ASHRAE 9.9, or the Green Grid’s PUE. Unfortunately, when evaluating data center providers, customers often have to navigate between what is real and a vendor’s standard- inspired puffery.
A prime example is may be found with the Tier system originally developed by the Uptime Institute. Comprised of four (4) escalating “Tiers” that prescribed the physical componentry required to deliver specific levels of reliability the system became recognized as the de facto standard for reliable data center design. Despite the acceptance of the standard few data center providers have elected to actually 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 developer of the specification itself is, while perhaps not malicious, a misrepresentation to prospective customers as to their facility’s fealty to the standard.
In recent years, this “drive-by” approach to the Uptime Institute’s Tier standard has been exacerbated by the penchant of many data center providers to label their designs with the designation of “Tier +”. This self-proclamation of designs as Tier III plus, for example, diminishes the value of the standard itself by demoting it from a recognized reference point to a mere guideline that is open to liberal interpretation. By severing the link between structure and performance, this mode of casual compliance removes the customer’s ability to make their data center decision based on prescribed norms and forces them to rely only on the assertions of potential providers.
This same level 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.
This pattern of devolution from industry standards places a greater burden on today’s data center customers. Failure to ask for, and receive, objective evidence of a provider’s adherence to the standards that underlie their performance claims places the customer in the position of having to make their decision based more on the sizzle rather than the steak. Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) was the advice of the ancient Greek’s to wary prospective customers, in the world of data center standards compliance, it’s probably still good advice.