Operational Sustainability: Can your data centre go the long haul?
Glenn Aspland, Senior Facility Manager for Metronode explains the Uptime Institute’s least-known (and least-achieved) certification category – and argues that it is, in the end, the most important.
We’re often asked about the difference between ‘tiers’ in data centre ratings. Tier ratings are awarded by the world’s leading data centre certification authority, the Uptime Institute. It’s common knowledge that the higher the tier, the better – but what does better mean?
In short, tier ratings indicate the level of resilience and availability of the data centre. In my previous article, Has your data centre service provider jumped the Tier III bar?, I explained that Tier III has now become the baseline for business-critical ICT.
What is less well-known is that the vast majority of tier certifications are based on two categories: Design Documents, which relates to the intention of the facility owners; and Completed Facility, which is the realisation of that intention.
At Metronode, we’ve strived for many years to achieve Tier III certification in both of these categories for each of our new data centres. We were first to achieve Tier III Constructed Facility in Australia in July 2012. More recently, we achieved Tier III Gold certification for two of our NSW data centres under the lesser-known category of Operational Sustainability.
We were the first in Asia Pacific to achieve what is arguably the most valuable of Uptime Institute’s tier certification categories. As of writing, only 23 facilities in the world can claim Operational Sustainability Gold, two of them being Metronode data centres in Australia.
What is Operational Sustainability?
Where Uptime Institute’s Design and Constructed Facility certifications relate to a data centre’s infrastructure, Operational Sustainability relates to the ongoing maintenance of that infrastructure and the operational processes which take place within and around it. It’s the ‘human’ element, if you like – and those people are provided with the very best tools, systems and processes to work with.
In summary, there are three elements:
- The development of effective processes, their documentation and flowcharts: equipment maintenance; systems monitoring; fault identification, escalation and resolution – among many others.
- The ‘people’ side of data centre operations: such as skills assessment and acquisition; facility ownership; training; rostering; contractor and vendor management.
- Continuous improvement: informed by continuous reporting and analysis of performance; capacity planning; process enhancement; project, change and risk management.
Certification is a lengthy process – involving full disclosure and a demanding audit by the Uptime Institute. Because Operational Sustainability is an ongoing endeavour, certification is only awarded for a set period; only those facilities that demonstrate truly sustainable practices and operations are awarded Gold, which is valid for the full three years. Silver (two years) and Bronze (one year) certifications are awarded where there is any doubt of sustainability.
Worth the effort
Needless to say, achieving Operational Sustainability certification is no mean feat. It takes years of analysis, planning, process design and implementation – as well as major organisational and operational change. (In another article, I’ll provide more details of just what it covers and entails.)
We were rewarded in October 2015, when our Silverwater and Unanderra facilities both achieved Tier III Certification of Operational Sustainability – Gold. They were then the first in Asia Pacific and, at time of writing, still the only facilities in Australia to be certified for Operational Sustainability.
With our operational processes and practices now accepted, tried and true, we’re progressively applying them across our other facilities nationally.
Why do we do it?
Given the significant investment and intense effort, why were we driven to become the first in Australia to achieve Operational Sustainability certification? After all, we already had more Tier III-certified data centre facilities than any other Australian provider in the Design and Constructed Facilities categories…
Essentially, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards in our industry for our customers, including 100% uptime (which we’ve maintained since 2002). We also promise adaptability and scalability – which is more than just adding a new data hall or annex; our processes and operations must be scalable too.
For the same reasons, we’ve invested extensively in energy efficiency and information security management certifications, and we continue to keep these front and centre of how we operate our facilities. For example, we were the first to achieve NABERS 4.5 star rating for data centres, and have committed to improve this in 2017.
When you’re evaluating a potential data centre partner, look beyond the facility itself to how it’s operating day to day and year to year, how its team embraces ownership and learning, and whether they’re continuously seeking better ways of doing things. For us, that’s the true test of a facility’s ongoing resilience and availability.