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Setting The Bar: A Guide to Data Center Certification Standards

Setting The Bar: A Guide to Data Center Certification Standards


When businesses choose a data center vendor, they are generally looking for a long-term partner who can continue to support their business as it develops. This means it’s vital to undertake a robust evaluation of potential candidates. Data center certification standards can play a very useful role in this evaluation. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about them.

Understanding data center certification standards

Data center certification standards are frameworks that define the criteria necessary for a data center to achieve a certain outcome. These outcomes are typically related to security, reliability, and/or sustainability.

Data center certification standards are created by independent authorities (such as regulators). Adherence to them may be assessed and monitored by the authority directly or by another third-party appointed (or at least authorized) by them. This ensures that results are both objective and reliable.

Common data center certification standards

Most data center certification standards relate to security. These include data security. Some data center certification standards relate to reliability. Probably the best-known of these is the Uptime Institute Tier Certification.

This standard categorizes data centers into four tiers based on their design and operational capabilities. It evaluates factors such as redundancy, fault tolerance, and availability to ensure uptime and resilience.

There are also data center certification standards related to sustainability. Probably the best-known of these is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This is a certification program for green building design, construction, operation, and maintenance. While not specific to data centers, it is widely used in the data center industry.

How to use data center certification standards when evaluating vendors

Data center certification standards can provide a useful tool for evaluating vendors. Like any tool, however, it’s important to use them in the right way. With that in mind, here are three points to keep in mind when using data center certification standards to evaluate vendors.

Define your requirements, preferences, and priorities clearly

First of all, it’s important to be clear on what is a requirement and what is a preference. It’s also important to be clear on the strength of those preferences. In other words, which are close to being requirements and which are nice-to-haves? Setting out these parameters clearly and early can make the initial triage of potential vendors much easier.

Make sure you fully understand the scope of any certification

Data center certification standards in the same area often cover much the same ground. For example, most. If not all, data security standards are based on the same underlying principles. These often need to be implemented in much the same way. Each certificate will, however, have its own specific characteristics that you need to understand fully.

It’s also important to note that many data center certification standards are available at varying levels. For example, the Uptime Institute has 4 tier ratings that reflect different levels of resilience and hence reliability. Likewise, many data security standards have different levels of certification. You therefore need to check the specifics of what the potential vendor has achieved.

Validate any claims a vendor makes

These days, it’s usually very easy to validate any claims a vendor makes as many certification-awarding bodies keep databases of businesses that hold their certification. Even if they don’t, they can usually respond to a request for confirmation of a potential vendor’s certification status.

This step serves three key purposes. Firstly, it protects you from misleading statements (including ones that were made by accident) and false assumptions. Secondly, it shows that you have performed suitable due diligence. Thirdly, it can provide extra, relevant, information.

In particular, it can show if a potential vendor’s certification will need to be renewed in the near future. If it does, this may be something you should discuss before committing to a contract.

The limitations of data center certification standards

Data center certification standards essentially guarantee a minimum standard of competence in a specific area (such as security). That is often highly useful information for any potential customer. At the same time, there is a lot they do not tell you about a business.

In particular, they do not give any indication of the vendor’s attitude towards customer service or the overall value for money they offer. This is why data center certification standards need to be viewed alongside other key factors such as pricing, service level agreements (SLAs), performance guarantees, and customer references.

Combining quantitative factors (such as data center certification standards) with qualitative ones (such as customer references) can give a reliable, overall view of a potential vendor.

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