Understanding TIA-942 guidelines and Uptime Institute’s Tier system

28 May 2018

A common challenge faced by CIOs and managers looking for a colocation facility to host their hybrid IT deployment is finding the best facility for their requirements. Contract terms and pricing aside, this is no straightforward matter due to the need to sort through details such as technical capabilities, specifications, and accreditations.

In Southeast Asia, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) 942 standard and Uptime Institute’s Tier standards are two standards that are likely to keep coming up in a comparison of facilities. What is their core focus, and how are they different?


TIA-942 standard

The ANSI/TIA-942 standard is recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and specifies detailed guidelines for planning and building telecommunications infrastructure such as multi-tenant data centres. The standard is regularly updated through the work of a designated sub-committee, and is designed through a consensus-based approach. The latest version is TIA-942-B, and was published in June 2017.

With detailed and granular specifications, TIA-942 is often praised for its transparency and for providing guidance in terms of predefined checklists and clear descriptions to help meet the desired outcome. And the fact that it was crafted as a standard means that it works well as a framework to adhere to without having to reinvent the wheel, and offers a standard nomenclature that data centre providers when specifying their design goals.

It is important to note that TIA itself does not offer its own certification program nor certify compliance to the TIA-942 standard. While there are organizations and consultants who can design data centres that conform to the standard, they are not themselves certified or accredited by TIA in any way. Indeed, nobody can perform an official “certification” or “audit” because there isn’t any – though there are providers licensed to develop and deliver TIA-942 training courses.


Uptime Institute Tier standards

On its part, the Uptime Institute (UTI) Tier standard is an external certification created to ensure that a data centre facility is not only built to specification, but is also tested to work correctly with designed workloads and error situations. This is achieved through a two-phase accreditation pathway, aptly named “Design” and “Constructed”; the former has an expiry date and must be updated with the latter before it lapses.

UTI’s Tier standard is often touted as being more goal-oriented with outcomes measured in terms of redundancy, concurrent maintainability and fault tolerance. While the method of achieving that is flexible, Uptime engineers have an internal checklist that lets them evaluate designs in a systematic way to validate data centres. For the Constructed phase, this includes the actual simulation of power disruptions by disconnecting mains power and running the data centre for 12 hours under full load ahead its official launch – a step that is often skipped.

And while it is technically possible to retrospectively perform both the Design and Constructed certification, the reality is that it usually isn’t economical to do so if the facility hasn’t been designed and installed with it in mind. This is due to the presence of non-negotiable requirements such as the need for at least 12 hours of fuel (and water for cooling, if applicable), as well as generators that are rated for continuous running.


Understanding the difference

In a nutshell, while the Uptime Institute and TIA-942 standards are similar in that they are concerned about raising the bar on data centres, they take completely different routes to achieve that.

TIA-942 is a global standard designed by a committee through a collaborative process to include the latest best practices. The onus is on data centre operators to ensure they engage experienced data centre architects and engineers that understand the TIA-942 standard. The absence of certifying body that is authorised to test a completed facility means that adherence to the standard can only be said to be self-declaratory in nature, however.

With specifications crafted by data centre experts, UTI takes a more hands-on approach where their engineers validate the design before construction, followed by actual tests conducted at the completed facility. Considering the need to uphold the reputation of its accreditation, UTI will only certify data centres found to meet its requirements. Of course, this does mean more work for data centre providers as both design and constructed facility must pass a rigorous validation process to get accredited.

Regardless of which standard you prefer, the presence of good data centre standards can only translate to robust facilities – and is a win for customers. And there is no question that reliable on-premises infrastructure is more important than ever today, as enterprises roll out complex hybrid IT deployments for the best blend of agility and control in their IT infrastructure.


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