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Data centre design principles,

guidelines and standards

By: Lee Smith, Director at Dee Smith and Associates

Press release issued by

Cape Town, 5 Feb 2015

Over the past number of years, practising as a data centre design

and management consultant, I've frequently been asked about data
centre standards or guidelines and which is the best to apply when
designing a new data centre or refurbishing/upgrading an existing
In my opinion there are only a few that are "up there". In order to
provide insight in this regard I will shed some light on the matter and
offer guidance within the context of the African data centre industry.
There is no globally-accredited, official data centre standard. As a
result we cannot just pick that one and apply it. There are a number
of publications and documents that offer best practices, guidelines
and, in some cases, are acknowledged as fully-fledged standards.
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In Africa the following publications are arguably the best

Title of Publication
Uptime Institute
Data Center Site
Infrastructure Tier Standard: Topology

Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data
Yes, there are others as well but they are not referenced as much in
Africa as the ones I mention above. For the purposes of this article I
will focus on the two that I believe are most prevalent.
Uptime Institute's Data Centre Site Infrastructure Tier Standard:
In the true sense of the word, this is actually not an official standard.
However, it does not at all detract from or reduce the stature of the
publication and the high manner in which it is regarded or referenced
within the data centre industry. There is no dispute that Uptime
Institute, through the vision of the late Ken Brill, pioneered and first
published their Tier levels in terms of data centre design redundancy
during the mid-1990s.
Uptime Institute uses the word "Tier" as part of their classification
nomenclature. The classification range is represented by the roman
numerals I, II, III and IV. A "Tier-I" site is the lowest classification and
a "Tier-IV" site carries the highest classification.
The design requirements are outcomes-based.
Insight regarding the Uptime Institute certification process:
* Tier certifications may only be conducted by Uptime Institute.
* The process usually begins with a Tier Gap Analysis (TGA). This is
a precursor (but sometimes very necessary) to the actual formal
certification exercise itself.
* Tier Certification of Design Documentation (TCDD) is the first
formal step in the certification process. Once attained, the data
centre receives formal recognition of the data centre's design
documentation. TCDD is valid for 24 months from date of issue.
* Tier Certification of the Constructed Facility (TCCF) is the final step
and ultimate objective in the design and build certification process.
TCCF must be completed within 24 months after TCDD has been
granted. This is a mandatory requirement for all data centres who
obtained their TCDD since 1 January 2014.
* The document itself is periodically revised by the Uptime Institute
through their own internal processes as well as validation and
endorsement by the Owners Advisory Committee (AOC), a
consortium of data centre owners and operators, all of which have

received Uptime Institute Tier Certifications.

* Certification covers electrical and mechanical. Some networking is
considered, but it's very limited.
The Uptime Institute document is available for download at You are required to complete a registration
page prior to the download.
Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard for Data Centers TIA-942-A
TIA-942 is approved by the relevant Telecommunications Industry
Association ( committees and sub-committees,
such as TR-42. It is adopted in accordance with the American
National Standards Institute (ANSI) patent policy. The standard
covers Telecommunications (T), Electrical (E), Architectural (A) and
Mechanical (M) as its major disciplines.
The latest version of the standard was released in August 2012. In
March 2014 the word "TIER" was replaced by the word "Rated" as
the part of the classification nomenclature. This change was made to
differentiate the TIA-942 standard from Uptime Institute. The
remainder of the content did not change. The range of redundancy
classifications are represented by the numeric values of "1, 2, 3 or
4". Effectively the same principle applies in terms of redundancy
where "Rated-1" is the lowest and least resilient and "Rated-4" is the
most resilient level for a data centre.
The requirements in TIA-942 are regarded as prescriptive and
Insight regarding the TIA-942 certification process
* TIA itself does not conduct audits and certifications. They only
publish the TIA-942 standard and provide guidance on process
around audit and certification.
* The process of certification begins with a design validation exercise
as per the classification rating requested by the client and then
independently compared to the standard.
* Once the Design Validation is concluded, a Corrective Action
Report (CAR) is issued and subsequently referenced to modify and
correct any non-compliance between the current design and the
actual rating objective for the specific data centre.
* The data centre owner/investor and supporting team will then use
the CAR to ensure that the actual design is aligned with the

expectations and requirements specified. This can take any period of

time from a few weeks to much longer, depending on what
improvements and changes are actually required.
* Once all non-compliance items are addressed and the actual
facility has been completed, a final onsite certification audit will be
conducted to ensure compliance. This final certification audit is
* Upon the success of this final audit, a compliance certificate is
issued which is valid for three years.
* A surveillance audit is conducted annually to ensure that no major
deviations from the standard has occurred.
* A mandatory recertification audit is required every third year to
ensure that compliance to TIA-942 is maintained.
* The TIA-942 standard is formally reviewed by TIA every five years
and is available for purchase at:
For greater detail in terms of the compliance requirements for each
of the two afore-mentioned classifications please refer to their
respective Web sites and all relevant published documentation.
In general there's not much difference between Uptime Institute Tier
Topology and ANSI/TIA-942. I am sure that many may disagree with
my comment, including both organisations. Let me give you my take
on the obvious differences:
* Uptime Institute Tier Topology is outcomes-based; TIA-942 is
* TIA-942 covers telecommunications and architectural requirements
in greater detail. Uptime Institute does not address architectural
requirements and it covers only a very small attribute of the entire
networking component.
* Due to its prescriptive nature and the two additional disciplines
covered, TIA-942 has more page content. Uptime Institute's Tier
Topology document has less content but there are additional
published papers which further clarify the design components and
* TIA-942 introduces compartmentalisation at Rated-3. Uptime
Institute requires this at Tier-IV.
* In the event of a failure, Uptime Institute requires continuous
cooling at Tier-IV. TIA-942 is satisfied if the data centre thermal
management remains within the ASHRAE limits for its Rated-4
design. In essence I regard both requirements as being one and the

* Only Uptime Institute may conduct formal certifications according
to their own classification system. TIA itself does not conduct audits
and certifications. However, there are others that do provide audits
and certifications based on TIA-942 for commercial benefit. One
such company is EPI (, whom I regard as the most
experienced and reputable when it comes to TIA-942.
The commonalities between the two:
* Both publications and organisations are vendor and product
* Both organisations have long-standing and good track records
within the data centre industry.
* Using the criteria of either, data centres can be designed and built
against measurable resilience and redundancy criteria. Although
Uptime Institute is an outcomes-based framework, the design
resilience can still be measured.
* For both it is the certification of the data centre facility itself is the
final objective. Design certification or design validation alone does
not stand on its own anymore.
* Both classification systems contribute positively and have a
beneficial impact on the data centre industry.
In my view there is obvious benefit for the African data centre
industry in terms of these classifications. Understand that I by no
means detract from any benefit derived from other classification
guidelines and standards.
Understanding the data centre audit and certification
A decision to follow the formal route of obtaining a truly independent
data centre certification (or to occupy space in a commercial data
centre) requires the following considerations:
1. Self-certification or self-auditing is most definitely not
Laying claim to a specific redundancy level without confirmation by
an independent and reputable audit and certification authority is of
little (if any) value. If a data centre does lay claim to this then
potential customers, investors and other stakeholders have every
right to request independent and formal proof.

2. Appreciate why you select a specific data centre standard or

When it comes to data centres, there are many who want assurance
that they get what they pay for. In some cases the market demands
an independent and formal certification. It may be specified in the
requirements of an RFI or RFP where proof is requested to provide
peace of mind that the selected (or self-built) data centre will provide
what stakeholders and clients demand. Some organisations,
especially data centre service providers, use their certification in
their marketing and advertising to hopefully obtain a competitive
advantage over competitors. For some it's purely a case of
economics and the least expensive certification option will be
3. The process to obtain certification requires sustained
commitment from all involved.
Any level of independent certification requires resources in terms of
design specialists, consultants and advisors, builders, constructors,
commissioning agents and funding. It's not just about the financial
cost payable to those doing the certification. It is also about the time
and effort that is required to ensure that the data centre does
eventually comply with the requirements of the classification level.
4. The appointed team must have relevant qualifications,
capability and experience.
The consultant or team you select must have the relevant
experience and understanding of the redundancy requirements of
the selected certification. There must be a proven, verified and
successful track record in formal data centre design, build and
certification exercises. Understanding the processes and steps
involved to obtain certification is a critical success factor. There are
many who lay claim to this but only a handful have successfully done
it from start to finish. These are the people that you want. And
remember, once you begin the process of formal certification, it must
be completed or you will have nothing to show for it other than the
5. The local AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) always
overrules any classification requirements.
It does not matter what the selected classification requirements may
state if the AHJ states something different then you must comply.
This may, in most cases, not affect the attainment of the required

certification objective unless there is a glaring oversight in terms of

resiliency and/or safety. Always ensure that you understand the local
rules, regulations and laws.
6. Executive buy-in and continued support is a critical success
There is no denying that data centres are expensive to build and
operate. Executive sponsorship and support will ensure that
objectives are reached and that the right focus is kept at the highest
levels of the organisation. Without this kind of support the entire
exercise runs the risk of losing momentum and, in the worst
scenario, failure.
One more important observation
A well-designed, commissioned and formally-certified data centre is
but one aspect of this equation. The continued maintenance and
ongoing operational management of the data centre are equally
important to ensure that the data centre remains functional and
reliable according to the original design intent. But this is a subject of
discussion in a future article.
Organisations and businesses who are looking to build their own or
deploy their ICT assets in highly resilient and robust data centres will
do well to actually consider the measured performance, operational
reliability and availability of a site.
Whether formal certification is done or not or whether you decide to
occupy space in such a formally certified data centre or not, most
data centre owners and operators will, at the very least, refer to
some recognised standard or guideline. For Africa, in most cases, it
is either Uptime Institute's Tier Standard: Topology or the ANSI/TIA942-A Standard as published by TIA.
Understanding the decision drivers and the implications of this
reference is vital to the outcome. A data centre must live up to the
design resiliency that is claimed. The applied design philosophy
must mitigate the risk of failures and the subsequent loss of
downtime. The recognised and regarded standards and guidelines
all have the same objective data centre reliability and availability.
The team must be able to deliver on this through their experience,
commitment and professionalism.

Also keep in mind that there is no point in merely designing a data

centre on paper that meets the criteria of the classification system
selected, especially when formal certification is not pursued. Robust
design, engineering, execution, quality control and a rigorous
commissioning program are all required to ensure that a data centre
complies with all aspects of the final design.
Irrespective of what you decide to do, find the right person or
organisation that has the capability and experience to guide you
through all the steps in the decision making process, execution and
the subsequent successful attainment of your data centre objectives.
Feel free to contact us at:
About the author: Lee Smith is a data centre design and
management consultant. He has a wide range of experience,
ranging from IT Operations and Engineering through to IT
Infrastructure Management. He is an Uptime Institute Accredited Tier
Designer (ATD) and a Certified TIA-942 Design Consultant (CTDC),
accredited through EPI/EXIN. He is also on the international judging
panel for the Brill Awards for Efficient IT. Passionate about his area
of expertise, he aims to provide a better understanding about the
practical design challenges, implications and other related aspects of
data centres. He is available for consulting engagements
internationally and can be contacted at
Disclaimer: The views, opinions, analyses and observations
expressed in this article are those of the author. It does not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Dee Smith and
Associates, its affiliates or clients, or any other of the author's
various affiliations, whether referenced individually, collectively,
directly or indirectly.