Behind the Scenes: Earning Uptime Institute’s Tier III Gold

Behind the Scenes: Earning Uptime Institute’s Tier III Gold

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FORTRUST’s Denver data center became the only colocation data center in the United States to be awarded the Tier III Certification of Operational Sustainability. While this achievement involved considerable preparation from the data center’s management team and staff, planning and execution began long before Uptime Institute ever put its standards into place.

We recently sat down with Trevor Struck, Director of Data Center Critical Systems, and Sol Stanton, Data Center Critical Systems Manager, to get a better idea of what this Tier III Gold certification means.

“A lot of the things we currently have were laid out 15 years ago. Uptime Institute and their certifications didn’t really apply until about 10 years ago,” Struck noted. “We already had a game plan in place of how we were going to do everything involved in achieving this certification.”

In order to receive its Tier III Gold certification, FORTRUST began with a three-pronged approach that included design, construction, operation and management. The first step here was to ensure that the facility was designed in a manner that aligned with Tier III requirements.

“We did our Tier certification classes with Uptime Institute and they teach you about what they’re looking for,” Struck noted. “Then we just slowly started, over the years, adjusting our methods to incorporate their methods.”

“90 percent of achieving the Tier III Gold certification hinged upon the processes that staff members completed every day.”

From here, FORTRUST could prove that the Denver data center was constructed according to the specifications of its design. Finally, FORTRUST was able to achieve its Management and Operations Gold certification.

“Doing the constructed certification shows [Uptime Institute] that we were practicing what we preach,” Stanton explained.

A main focus on staff training
This three-part approach was also seen in FORTRUST’s staff training. Everyone from staff members to administrators and vendors are required to go through continual training in order to understand facility operations and activities. During the certification process, the Uptime Institute not only had to check that a training process was in place, but that these activities aligned with three specific initiatives: proactive, practiced and informed.

“Proactive means that you had continuous improvement in whatever you had in your processes and procedures,” Struck explained. “Practiced was ensuring that you were actually doing the processes and procedures, because it doesn’t do you any good to have them in place if you’re not actually doing them. And informed was that everybody was easily able to find all the information they needed, and that they were able to find it quickly – that it wasn’t just one person holding all of the knowledge and keeping it, that everybody had free reign of all the training available.”

As part of this training, all staff members had to have intimate knowledge of how certain critical systems in the data center operate. Each facility employee was taught about the particulars of service delivery, including how power and cooling is delivered from the data center’s systems to the customers’ environments. FORTRUST ensured that this training not only extended to the “worker bees” – the employees actually managing and operating facility systems – but all staff members and partners as well.

“Our goal was that when [Uptime Institute] came in, we were going to help them set a new standard for training,” Struck noted. “That’s one of the things we are big on – being able to show them that it’s not just the facility guys that we train, but the entire company gets trained on everything we do. The vendors have specific training on how they do work within the facility. We wanted to be able to show years of history of having a robust training program in place.”

FORTRUST is now the only colocation data centers in the United States with a Tier III Gold certification.

The audit: Achieving excellence
When it came time for the actual audit, Stanton and Struck wanted to ensure that they would be prepared to address and provide details about any process Uptime Institute asked about. Overall, achieving this certification required a considerable amount of information gathering, as FORTRUST was already aligned with Uptime Institute’s industry-recognized standards.

“It was just constant improvement on our processes and procedures that got us ready for this,” Struck said. “It took us about two months to actually get ready for the audit that they performed, but it’s something that we’ve been doing since we opened.”

In addition to gathering and providing the necessary data and details, Uptime Institute also toured the Denver data center to ensure that the activities taking place matched up with what FORTRUST had on paper. In this way, Stanton noted that as much as 90 percent of achieving the Tier III Gold certification hinged upon the practices that staff members completed every day.

The best of the best: Constant improvement
Gathering all the information and documents required for certification also allowed Struck and Stanton to get an in-depth look at the data center’s processes. In this way, they were not only able to ensure alignment with industry standards, but seek out areas that could be further improved upon.

“We’re always constantly re-evaluating where we’re at and where our weak links are,” Struck noted. “We found a few things that [Uptime Institute] was happy with, but that [Stanton] and I weren’t happy with, so we’ve started to implement ways to improve those processes and procedures. That’s what was really beneficial for us, that constant improvement. We don’t settle for number one, we want to be number one with a star.”

What’s more, these improvements began immediately – before Uptime Institute’s audit ever took place.

“Once we started going through a lot of this and gathering all the information, we started thinking about what we thought were weaknesses, and we were already well on our way to making changes in the way we’re doing things,” Struck said. “It wasn’t a matter of waiting for [Uptime Institute] to to come and find out what was wrong – we knew what was wrong, or what needed improving, and we decided that we were just going to start taking care of things right away.”

What’s more, this level of constant improvement ensures that when it comes time for re-certification, FORTRUST is adequately prepared.

“We’re going to have to be re-certified in 2019 so it basically reminds us of what areas we need to be focused on,” Stanton said.

Client confirmation and cementing industry status
Not only does the Tier III Gold certification put FORTRUST in an exclusive level of the marketplace, it also proves to clients that the team is providing them with what’s truly the best service possible.

“It reassures our clients that everything that the sales team is telling them when they sign up for service is true and validated by a third party data center authority,” Stanton said. “They can be confident that their IT environment is always going to have power and cooling and they’re not going to have to stay up at night worrying about it. They can focus on their core business.”

To find out more about our Tier III Gold certification and how it benefits service delivery, contact us for a tour of our award-winning Denver data center today.