Last week we looked at some disagreement over testing equipment. This week, there’s controversy over certifying buildings.

The Uptime Institue has been the source for reliability branding for facilities, with its Tier certificates, which assess the measures a data center has taken to ensure it will keep on working.

Uptime will examine your data center designs, or your actual data center. Then, according to how well it meets the Uptime Tier specifications for reliability, it issues a certificate labelling your site as, say, Tier III or Tier IV.

Each of the Tier classifications is available at different levels: for the Design Documents, for the Constructed Facility and for its Operational Sustainability.

The trouble is service providers were using Design certificates to advertise their data centers, even though they did not have Constructed Facilities certificates for the the finished building.

Trouble in paradise

Maybe they designed a very reliable data center, but built it a bit differently, says Uptime. Customers might move their IT into that building, believing it to be more reliable than it actually is. As the organization itself put it: “a Tier Certification of Design Documents could be used to substantiate a data center that is designed to one Tier level and constructed and commissioned to another Tier level.”

From now on, US service providers can’t display Design certificates, and won’t have them listed on the Uptime site, unless they get the facility certified also.

Cynics say this is all about the money. Tier certificates are a marketing tool, and a Design certificate may attract customers through the door, just as well as a Constructed Facility plaque - and it’s a whole lot cheaper.

Uptime wants providers who start the process, to carry on to its conclusion, thereby getting more money itself.

But there is more to it. The goals of a data center, or the market it addresses, may change between design and build. A company might simply be trying the Uptime process out, and calculate that carrying on for the full Constructed Facility certificate isn’t worth paying for. It might feel that it has a slightly different approach to reliability, and can vouch for it.

If there is genuine abuse of the Design certificates, Uptime’s move is a good thing. But it might backfire on Uptime, if people decide that the two-stage process is too much to commit to.

There are alternative measures of reliability - notably the EN50600 European standard. This doesn’t have the same level of third party certification as Uptime Tiers, but covers the same ground in a very similar format. There’s a strong feeling that it could do the same job - although it actually has some technical weaknesses, acknowledged by those involved.

Uptime Tiers have a very well-established primacy in reliability certification, and it’s hard to imagine their position being shaken by other measures as things stand.

Many service providers - such as the influential Chris Crosby of Compass Data Centers - have welcomed the move from Uptime. On balance, it’s likely to strengthen the position of the Tiers.

But there are doubts about Tiers, and if they get stronger…. it could end in tears.

A version of this story appeared on Green Data Center News.