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Understanding Data Centre Tiers and Types: What are data centre tiers?

Understanding data centre tiers and types helps IT teams to differentiate between the productivity, uptime, construction and design offered by each tier and type. The data centre tier classification system can be valuable for companies in relating how their business goals align with their data centre’s reliability.

Each of the four data centre tiers reflects a specific and increasing level of performance, redundancy and complexity. Following tier guidelines, companies can customise their data centres to fit unique industry needs, establish credibility, ensure maximum uptime and more.

After reading this article, you will understand:

  • What exactly are data centre tiers?
  • What are the differences in levels of data centre tiers?
  • What is the Tier 5 standard and how is it defined?
  • Why are data centre tiers important?
  • How are data centre tiers and types of data centres related?
  • What are the most common types of data centres?
  • Which data centre tier is the best choice for your organisation?

What Are Data Centre Tiers?

The Uptime Institute established the tier classification system to create transparency on a data centre’s redundancy with the consistent and concise categorisation of data centre infrastructure. The performance and uptime of a company’s data centre are important aspects of modern businesses. 

Using the tier guidelines, professionals can find and address inefficiencies in their current systems to evaluate decisions and increase uptime. If you are not seeking a certified tier level, you can still find it helpful to reference the tiers as you consider how to structure your data centre to meet your business needs.

What Are the Differences in Data Centre Tier Levels?


The main differences in each data centre tier are:

  • uptime
  • redundancy
  • paths for power
  • cost
  • implementation time

It is up to the IT specialist to determine the preferred tier standard and which customisations are needed to meet the business objectives. As the tier level increases, so do the costs. 

The difference in uptime is the key requirement when considering each tier level and which customisations are needed to meet the business objectives.

Data Centre Uptime Chart by Tier Level | Service Express

The New Tier Level 5® Standard

In 2017, colocation and cloud service provider, Switch, revealed the first-ever Tier 5 data centre. This advanced data centre features heightened redundancy, long-term power capabilities, zero roof penetrations, physical and network security, 100% use of renewable energy and more. To date, the Uptime Institute does not acknowledge Tier 5 data centres in their certification, but the original creators of the standards are in support of the newest tier level.

Switch created the Tier 5 standards to “enhance availability and reliability for the colocation industry”. Industry experts have identified the significant threats that affect colocation data centres, including water damage, earthquakes and more. The new standard provides Switch’s customers with an increased level of service and security.

Why Are Data Centre Tiers Important?

The tier classification system reinforces benchmarks to better align your company’s fiscal and performance goals with new infrastructure investments. In many cases, this is viewed as the primary benefit. Tiers can be valuable for:

Productivity & Uptime

This is especially important for companies that provide Software as a Service (SaaS). When customers rely on software for their business operations, they want reassurance that your data centre is redundant.

Credibility

A data centre tier certification proves to stakeholders that your organisation’s infrastructure is well-equipped to achieve the company goals. Each tier is held to rigorous standards – reassuring shareholders that their investment is not at risk.

Construction & Design

When building a new data centre or making updates to an existing one, the tier classification system can be used as a guideline for which elements to include in your system.

Organisations select the data centre type based on considerations such as desired uptime, budget, facility capabilities, staffing, maintenance and more.

Depending on the business needs, any data centre can be customised to meet requirements – trade-offs between higher costs, security concerns and downtime feed into the final decision.

5 Most Common Types of Data Centres

Cloud

Company data is stored and accessed through a cloud provider such as IBM Cloud, AWS or Microsoft Azure.

Colocation

An offsite data centre housing a company’s physical infrastructure hosted by the colocation provider.

Edge

Located in growing cities that help to deliver content to local users (i.e., streaming services) – a colocation provider typically operates this type of data centre.

Managed Service

Includes company-leased infrastructure managed by a third party on behalf of the organisation.

Enterprise

A data centre type often located onsite and serviced by the organisation’s IT department.

What’s the Right Data Centre Tier Level for Your Organisation?

There isn’t one correct answer when it comes to creating the data centre that will best serve your business. It’s a process requiring a large investment of time, strategy, skills and funds. However, understanding data centre tiers and types can help you to ask the right questions of your team, your business leaders and your vendor partners.

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