Certifying the Tier performance data center… Remotely? Yes!

Mitigating Risk Now with Remote Delivery of Tier Certifications

COVID-19 has changed the way we go about our lives and how we approach our work. We found ourselves—almost overnight—not traveling, not going into an office, figuring out how to stay home most of the time while continuing to work, and wondering why a respiratory infection requires so much toilet paper. We all faced, and still face, significant impact to all aspects of our lives. And companies learned quickly that they are not immune. Organizations and their approach to their business also changed practically overnight. Of course, Uptime Institute faced the same situation. We wondered how we were going to continue to support and positively impact the data center industry without the opportunity to meet face-to-face with clients to help them work through their challenges.

Remote Capabilities
Uptime Institute has spent decades helping the data center industry understand how best to design, build, and operate data centers to provide the availability required to meet unique business objectives. We reacted to the COVID-19 challenge by figuring out how to deliver value to our clients remotely. We have always been able to remotely review a design package for a new data center build or upgrade and provide insight into how that design meets Tier requirements, how easy it would be to operate, and if that design has the support spaces and features to provide for effective operations. Our Tier Certification of Design Documents has always been performed remotely, so continuing that was a no brainer. However, we often sit down with clients and work through design challenges in Working Sessions. Now, we utilize video conferencing in numerous areas to meaningfully connect with clients to discuss those challenges. Along the way, we did realize early on that focusing on a video screen for hours on end was challenging and tiresome, so we designed our Working Sessions to work more efficiently, with two half days of intensive discussion instead of one full day. We have all learned more about the need for creativity and flexibility during this pandemic.

It was obvious to us that design packages could be effectively reviewed remotely, but then asked ourselves “what’s the best way to witness demonstrations to confirm that a final completed facility was built according to the design documents and performs to Tier requirements?” We knew a remote delivery of a Tier Certification of Constructed Facility would involve video conferencing systems, but the challenge was to figure out precisely how to capture the proper perspective of what is going on in a data center to demonstration that it is performing in a correct and meaningful way.

As you might realize, watching a video feed has limitations, since the peripheral view is less than normal and is limited by the operator of the camera. To solve that issue, we worked closely with our clients to fine-tune an approach that involves multiple cameras, audio channels, and access to the Building Management System or DCIM, along with some important preplanning. Another tricky part is that working with someone in person it is far easier and effective to talk things through. But for some reason, is does seem a bit less effective over the phone or a video conferencing system.

It’s in the Angle
That tricky part is just one of the reasons the preplanning of the demonstrations is so critical. This requires the client to have documented and thought through the procedures for performing all demonstrations. This upfront work pays dividends to the operations, because as the facility moves forward with these procedures, they will be used to configure the systems to perform maintenance, and be tested. This gives operations personnel hands-on experience with the procedures during the demonstrations. An additional preplanning step is a dry run of the video and audio communications channels. This way everyone has experience with the setup since it is so very different in look and feel for both the Uptime Institute team and our clients.

The demonstrations are then performed according to the plan and scripts. Uptime Institute consultants witness remotely and the audio channel allows us to ask questions and indicate where we need a better angle or view on the camera or make a correction to see something further if a step that has been missed.

Site Visits Still Needed
Even though the demonstrations can be witnessed remotely, the Tier Certification of Constructed Facility still requires a site visit. We need to put eyes on the systems We understand and appreciate that the industry places their trust in us, and when we say something is Tier III compliant, we mean it is Tier III complaint. With that always in mind, we want to ensure and verify that what we saw live online. This includes verifying that the facility we saw on-camera is the correct one, and that nothing off-camera impacts compliance. This is something that simply cannot be fully verified remotely.

The other site component we now can begin remotely is data center operations, which we have traditionally delivered by a site visit to review the processes and procedures for a site, interview personnel to ensure they are aware of the processes, know what they are and where to find them, as well as regularly and completely follow through with the processes. These are delivered via Tier Certification of Operational Sustainability and the Management and Operations Stamp of Approval. Many aspects of these reviews are now delivered remotely through a document review of the processes and procedures along with video conference interviews of key personnel. This is followed up by a site visit to ensure the plans are being effectively put into practice, and that the results are evident. The remote delivery of a TCOS or M&O provides additional value as our clients receive initial feedback on their operational plans. Then when we do arrive onsite (after travel is possible again) there is an opportunity to review any updates to help identify and solve any problems or issues that have occurred in the meantime.

Why Now?
I know most data centers are under increased demand and scrutiny during the uncertain times we are all now facing. Most have changed operations to help ensure that staff are social distancing and to protect relief personnel from exposure to COVID-19, allowing them to be ready to step in as needed. Some ask us, why should they take the time out now to work with Uptime Institute to evaluate their data centers and/or operations?

Why? If you think about it there are two basic responses to such a situation that we find ourselves in today. The first is to keep doing what you are doing and to refrain from introducing any more additional distractions than necessary. The other way is to evaluate your situation, identify the risks, and start to mitigate them, or at minimum, at least plan for that risk mitigation. Taking the time to engage with us allows data center owners and operators the opportunity to learn where they have gaps in their design and/or operations and provides them with the ability to better plan on which corrective measures to take as soon as possible. This way they are ready and prepared to execute on that plan to improve their situation quickly. And, just maybe, the next global, or local, dilemma is not quite so disruptive as this one!

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