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Understanding Data Center Tiers and Types

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

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

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What Are Data Center Tiers?

The Uptime Institute established the tier classification system to create transparency on a data center’s redundancy with the consistent and concise categorization of data center infrastructure. The performance and uptime of a company’s data center 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 center to meet your business needs.

What Are the Differences in Data Center Tiers?

The main differences in each data center 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 customizations are needed to meet business objectives.  As the tier level increases, so do the costs. It is up to the IT specialist to determine what tier standard is preferred.

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

Tier 1

99.67%
Uptime

28.8 hrs potential downtime

Tier 2

99.74%
Uptime

22 hrs potential downtime

Tier 3

99.98%
Uptime

1.36 hrs potential downtime

Tier 4

99.99%
Uptime

.44 hrs potential downtime

Includes a single path for power and cooling

Must be shut down completely to perform maintenance

Ideal for businesses looking for an economical solution

May take 3 months to implement

N+1 Redundancy

Includes raised floor, uninterruptible power supply and backup generator

Single path for power and cooling while also providing backup or redundant components

Maintenance to the power path and other infrastructure require a system shut down

May take 3-6 months to implement

N+1 Redundancy with 72-hour outage protection

Multiple paths for power and cooling, along with backup redundancies

Able to undergo maintenance without disrupting operations

May take 15-20 months to implement

2N+1 Redundancy with 96-hour outage protection

Zero points of failure

Ideal for large international businesses with high volume traffic

Able to maintain operations in the event of downtime

May take around 15-20 months to implement

What Are the Differences in Data Center Tiers?

The main differences in each data center tier is uptime, redundancy, paths for power, cost and implementation time. It is up to the IT specialist to determine the preferred tier standard and which customizations are needed to meet business objectives.  As the tier level increases, so do the costs. It is up to the IT Specialist to determine what tier standard is preferred. The difference in uptime is the key requirement when considering each tier and which customizations are needed to meet business objectives.

Tier 1

99.67%
Uptime

28.8 hrs potential downtime

Includes a single path for power and cooling

Must be shut down completely to perform maintenance

Ideal for businesses looking for an economical solution

May take 3 months to implement

Tier 2

99.74%
Uptime

22 hrs potential downtime

N+1 Redundancy

Includes raised floor, uninterruptible power supply and backup generator

Single path for power and cooling while also providing backup or redundant components

Maintenance to the power path and other infrastructure require a system shut down

May take 3-6 months to implement

Tier 3

99.98%
Uptime

1.36 hrs potential downtime

N+1 Redundancy with 72-hour outage protection

Multiple paths for power and cooling, along with backup redundancies

Able to undergo maintenance without disrupting operations

May take 15-20 months to implement

Tier 4

99.99%
Uptime

.44 hrs potential downtime

2N+1 Redundancy with 96-hour outage protection

Zero points of failure

Ideal for large international businesses with high volume traffic

Able to maintain operations in the event of downtime

May take around 15-20 months to implement

The New Tier 5® Standard

In 2017, colocation and cloud service provider, Switch, revealed the first-ever Tier 5 data center. This advanced data center 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 centers in their certification, but the original creators of the standards are in support of the newest tier.

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 centers, including water damage, earthquakes, and more. The new standard provides Switch’s customers with an increased level of service and security.

Why Are Data Center 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 center is redundant.

Credibility

A data center tier certification proves to stakeholders that your organization’s infrastructure is well-equipped to achieve 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 center or making updates to an existing one, the tier classification system can be used as a guideline for what elements to include in your system.

How Are Data Center Tiers Related to Types of Data Centers?

Organizations select the data center type based on considerations such as desired uptime, budget, facility capabilities, staffing, maintenance and more. Depending on the business needs, any data center can be customized to meet requirements – trade-offs between higher costs, security concerns and downtime figure into the final decision.

5 Most Common Data Center Types

Cloud

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

Colocation

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

Edge

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

Enterprise

A data center type often located on-site and serviced by the organization’s IT department.

Managed Service

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

What’s the Right Choice for Your Organization?

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

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