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Why Not Build Multi-Tiered Data Centers?

by Dave Cappuccio  |  February 20, 2009  |  1 Comment

Data Center managers are continually looking for methods to provide the resources to support the business, but at the most optimal costs.  The mantra of “do more with less” is something IT has had to live with for years, and difficult economic times just sharpen the focus, especially towards capital budgets.   The days of building new data centers large enough to last 20 years are gone, at least for prudent designers.  This has been replaced by the idea of designing data centers than can be extended well beyond 20 years, both in physical footprint and power requirements.     

The latest design change to emerge is around the idea of data center tiers.  Traditionally IT managers built data centers with a high enough tier rating to support their most mission critical systems at the highest levels of availability affordable.  This has created situations where all applications became highly available, just as an offshoot of running in the same data center.  The fact that the data center was very costly in order to support high availability was seen as the cost of doing business. While this may have been a nice side effect of design principals in prior years, when looked at prudently the obvious question emerges;  is there a better way to design data centers?

The simple answer is; yes there is.   Historically these data center designs were fairly simple – Tier 1 through 4, and a specific square footage and power envelope – that many would consider the traditional method of data center design.  Over the past few years companies have begun building multi zoned data centers though, putting different power density levels, or zones within the same data center.  This multi-zoned approach provided a method of reducing capital expense dramatically since the electrical/mechanical equipment required was often reduced, while still maintaining scalability in the data center.  The basic idea was that different application types would require different levels of growth and power (density) with their servers (as we know, all applications are not created equal), and therefore designing floor-space to support the same density differences made sense. 

An obvious extension of this idea would be to apply a different uptime or availability goal to each of these zones, assuming that different application types would likely have different business impacts if they became unavailable.  Essentially you would be assigning specific service levels to discreet areas of the data center.  This is a non-traditional approach to design, but the impact on overall data center construction pricing can be huge.  Rather than build a tier 4 fully redundant data center that supports all mission critical systems, and everything else, why not build a tier 4 zone that supports mission critical (which may only be 15% of my overall workload), and assign tier 1, 2, or 3 status to other areas in the same building? 
Bottom line:  This concept is gaining acceptance in the industry but as you talk with engineering firms about potential design options expect some reticence at first, as non-traditional designs take longer to develop, and a firm may be reluctant to try something outside the standard design templates they have used in the past.  However, integrating concepts like the power zone approach and multi-tiering can reduce your capital expense by 40% or more, and with constrained IT budgets every little bit helps.


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Category: data-centers  food-for-thought  

Tags: data-centers  gartnerdc  tiers  

David J. Cappuccio
Research VP
6 years at Gartner
41 years IT industry

David J. Cappuccio is a managing vice president and chief of research for the Infrastructure teams with Gartner, responsible for research in data center futures, servers, power/cooling, green IT, enterprise management and IT operations. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Why Not Build Multi-Tiered Data Centers?


  1. […] colleague David Cappuccio recently provided his observations on tiered data center structures. As I read it, I was stuck by the similarities to what he was describing in IT operations to what I […]



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