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Comparing Data Center Tiers from a CEO's Perspective

Comparing Data Center Tiers from a CEO's PerspectiveManaging content and data for hundreds, or even possibly thousands of businesses is a big responsibility. Depending on your financial and/or technical resources, deciding which of the Uptime Institute’s Data Center tiers you want to build when you first roll out your data center environment will also determine:

  • The scale and type of customers you are able to serve
  • The Service Level Agreements you are able to live up to
  • Your pricing matrix
  • The marketing messaging and tactics you will use to attract and retain customers

To further clarify these points, it helps to define the four data center tiers, with assistance from the Uptime Institute’s journal pages.

Tier One – Basic Capacity

A data center which meets the Tier I classification has:

  • A dedicated space for servers and network hardware
  • An uninterruptable power supply (UPS)
  • Dedicated cooling and an engine power generator (Guaranteeing 99.671 percent availability)

Tier Two – Redundant Capacity Components

  • All of the equipment from Tier One, plus redundant power, cooling equipment, and UPS
  • Configuration and tuning to allow for maintenance of the primary servers and related network gear, and to ensure the second tier is able to prevent any outage of IT operations (Guaranteeing 99.741 percent availability)

Tier Three – Concurrently Maintainable

  • All of the equipment listed in Tier Two, plus a “redundant delivery path” of cooling and power to ensure the Tier Two components can be maintained without impacting the IT operations of the data center (Guaranteeing uptime of 99.982 percent)

Tier Four – Fault Tolerance

  • Building a layer of Fault Tolerance, or the automated changeover from one tier of technology to another, so there is no stoppage of IT operations, and peak uptime is achieved (Guaranteeing about 99.995 percent uptime)


For a data center CEO, getting certified at the first two tiers might seem like a lot of work for little gain.

There are two certification phases:

  • Tier Certification of Design Documents (before the data center is built, TCDD) Canceled in North America in 2015, but still active elsewhere in the world
  • Tier Certification of Constructed Facility (after the data center is built, TCDF)

The certification is audited against all of the criteria of each tier. So if a data center has Level Four Cooling but Level Two Power redundancy, the data center will be certified only at Level II.

In some cases, data center chief executives find the criteria for certification of the tiers to be complex, costly and might seem like a great deal of redundancy, expense and maintenance requirements for fractions of a percent uptime. Yet the lifespan of hardware, scalability, and stability of services are factors which are worthwhile.

Some say Tier 3 certification has the highest ROI ratio, and there are only a handful of Tier 4 data centers in the US, and around the world. Other pundits say just about any data center could achieve Tier 2 Certification.

If you are a data center CEO , it’s a good idea to follow the Uptime Institute’s guidance as far as redundancy, cooling and power systems. If you are still designing your facility, you don’t need to worry about data center Tier certification from the outset. Concern yourself more with certifications like SSAE 16 and other standards.


Have you gone through the Uptime Institute’s data center Tier certification process? How has it impacted your data center business? Do you think further changes are required to the certification process? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!


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