When it comes to data centers, lots of things can change in terms of the push of technology capabilities and the pull of business requirements. The planned lifecycle of a TIA standards document is five years – and we all know how much things can change in that amount of time. This fact, coupled with the broad audience that refers to the ANSI/TIA-942-B data center standard, has transformed how standards are intended to provide guidance to data center managers and the industry in general.

Given the pace and nature of change in our industry, I’m not surprised to see the demand on behalf of – and sometimes perceived resistance from – the standards-setting bodies. Are standards such as ANSI/TIA-942-B intended to provide “descriptive” or “prescriptive” guidance for data center compliance?

Normative vs. Informative Standards Guidance

The current ANSI/TIA-942-B draft document has almost 600 instances of text that describe guidance – and that’s leaving out all the tables, diagrams and other references. Only about 20% of that guidance is prescriptive or normative (using the words “shall” or “must”); almost 80% of the guidance is informative (using the words “should” or “consider”). This leads to a number of questions and ambiguity in practice (whether intentional or perceived). In my opinion, these questions are the real value of the document; in essence, have you thought about “this” (whatever “this” is) not only in relationship to data center compliance, but also in relationship to your business needs?

Due to the popularity and widespread use of the data center standard, TIA often forwards questions to me (as chair) and the leadership team, including the vice chair and editor. A common question thread: “In section X, the standard recommends/requires Y, but in our case, ___________. Is this acceptable?” If there is a quantitative issue that can be addressed through clarification of the normative references, we do so. When it comes to informative references, we can explain the reasoning behind the guidance. In this capacity, TIA cannot (and will not) provide any judgement when it comes to data center compliance. 

TIA cannot certify, warranty or verify data center compliance, or provide exception to any of the standards it develops. It is up to the market to provide that assurance to the enterprise, whether the approval comes from external third parties or an internal data center compliance governance process. I’m reminded of a Yogi Berra quote: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there.”

9 Tips to Improve System UptimeWhat Does “Data Center Compliance” Mean?

The standards are written by consensus for a composite world or idea(l); all of our interpretations of that standard, in the quantitative sense, will be different because our needs are different.

Compliance to the standard (or any standard) for its own sake is meaningless or misguided at best, and harmful at worst if it doesn’t meet business needs. Data center compliance and suitability to the need is the true end, and the standard(s) is a very critical and useful tool to achieve that end.

As an example, let’s look at data centers in the Netherlands (which literally translates to “lower countries”); according to Wikipedia, only about 50% of the country’s landmass is 1m above sea level. This is problematic from a data center site-selection standpoint due to the ever-present risk of flooding. But there are data centers in the Netherlands because they need to be there. Due to their unique geographic situation, I’m confident that there are subject-matter experts available to address that risk quite effectively. I would suggest that it’s more important to certify subject-matter expertise, protection and contingency plans than to ensure data center compliance with the standards recommendations for site selection in regard to floodplains.

Data Center Compliance: What is Right for You?

What is the right data center solution for you? The right site? The right media mix? I’m not ashamed to say: “I don’t know.” Nor, to be honest, should we ever tell you what to do, despite whatever information we may share. Our role as industry experts is to help you explore your options. As part of the solutions community, our role (whether manufacturer, engineer or integrator) is to help you discover the possibilities.

two professionals consulting together

Use the standards, expertise, experience and opinions of those you trust as advisors to find the best solution for your own unique needs. Together we can explore the goals, costs, benefits, features, risks and securities available to you. There may be similar models and approaches, but only you can understand best what your business needs are; on behalf of the industry, we’ll be glad to help you achieve those goals.

Belden can help you keep up with data center compliance. Learn about Belden’s data center solutions and services here.

Do you have a third party you consult with regarding data center compliance?
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