UL Introduces Safety Certifications for Data Centers

Feb. 21, 2018
UL, the international safety consulting company, has introduced UL 3223, a comprehensive certification program that looks at all aspects of performance and safety in the data center.

UL certification is coming to the data center. UL, the international safety consulting company, is now offering UL 3223, a comprehensive certification program that looks at all aspects of performance and safety in the data center.

“Our ultimate goal for UL 3223 is to help make data centers more resilient,” says Paul Schlattman, Senior Vice President, Practice Leader at ESD Consulting, a division of ESD Global that provides development and M&A services for mission critical facilities, which is partnering with UL to develop the certification. “By undertaking a UL 3223 evaluation, data center owners can certify the areas where they have the most efficiency, and identify the areas where they need to make improvements. If they achieve UL 3223 certification, they can point to that as a mark of excellence for their facilities.”

“It’s our hope that UL 3223 certification will create brand recognition and marketing value for data center providers,” said Neil Lakomiak, Director of Business Development and Innovation for UL’s Building and Life Safety Technologies Division. “UL has an established reputation for recommending safe and reliable products. When consumers see that a data center has achieved UL 3223 certification, we hope that will give them confidence that the facility has been certified as safe and reliable by America’s top safety organization.”

The first facility to receive the UL 3223 certification is the QTS Data Centers facility in Chicago, which was certified in January following a thorough inspection by UL and ESD Consulting.

“I think UL and ESD Consulting have a very realistic approach to certifying a facility based on its actual utilization needs.” says Nabon Marsico, Site Director for the QTS Chicago facility. “Having a certification from UL lends a lot of credibility to our data center. Unlike some other data center certifications, we don’t have to explain to our potential clients who UL is, or what they do. When we tell them our facility is UL certified, they know it has been certified by one of the top organizations for establishing quality and safety standards.”

How UL Certification Works

UL is a 120-year-old company that promotes safety, developing benchmarks that enables consumers and businesses to feel confident about the products and services they purchase. In evaluating a data center or critical facility, the UL is seeking to boost provider accountability and provide end-users with transparency and documentation to further mitigate operational risk.

The UL 3223 certification project team examines the following components:

  • Structure and architecture
  • Critical infrastructure (MEP) systems
  • Fire protection systems
  • Controls systems
  • Network and communications systems
  • Security systems
  • Commissioning

The UL 3223 project team inspects the facility through on-site tours, reviews the facility’s documentation, and evaluates the components listed above, according to the following six key criteria:

Concurrent Maintainability: Is the data center concurrently maintainable? If essential components are taken offline (i.e. if a local power failure knocks out the main power feed), do the critical infrastructure systems have enough redundancy to maintain operations of the IT footprint(s) housed in the facility?

Reliability: Are the facility’s critical systems reliable enough that it can continue to operate during a disaster or emergency? Do the components of the critical systems meet industry standards for performance and reliability?

Security: Has a credentialed security consultant performed a threat assessment and developed a plan for the facility? How well was the security plan implemented in terms of the facility’s operations center, on-site staff, and security technology features (biometric/key card access, video surveillance, etc.)?

Sustainability: How does the facility utilize sustainability features such as renewable energy, and how does this add value to the facility? (UL and ESD Consulting require a PUE of 1.5 or below for certification.)

Safety: Do fire protection and other safety systems meet industry standards for keeping the building, its critical infrastructure, and its IT footprint(s) safe?

Commissioning: If the building is new, the UL certification team provides monitoring during the buildout and Integrated Systems Test. If it’s an existing facility, the UL team reviews documentation to verify that the commissioning was properly completed, by certified personnel.

Following the evaluations, the project team gives the facility a “PASS” or “FAIL” grade. With UL 3223, there are no “levels” of certification – it’s either a “Yes” or a “No.” But if the facility doesn’t quite meet the certification requirements, it can use the evaluation as an opportunity to upgrade its systems and infrastructure The UL 3223 project team will continue to work with the facility owners as they do the upgrades necessary to achieve the certification.

UL 3223 vs. Other Certification Programs

There are several key differences between UL 3223 and other programs of its kind. First, UL and ESD say that UL 3223 is currently the most comprehensive certification program for data centers. Instead of concentrating solely on a facility’s mission-critical power and cooling, UL 3223 also looks at the strength and resiliency of a facility’s network, life safety, and security systems, as well as its sustainability and commissioning.

“Other certification programs might limit their inspection teams to 1 or 2 people,” says Lakomiak. “But the UL 3223 certification project team includes 10 to 12 professionals from different disciplines, including architectural, mechanical, and electrical engineers from ESD Consulting, and fire protection, security, and network design consultants from UL. Having a larger, more diverse team of experts enables us to do a more thorough inspection of the facility’s key operational components.”

The UL 3223 certification also takes recent developments in data center technology into consideration, allowing for more performance-based solutions, and giving data center owners more flexibility in designing their facilities.

“We’ve developed UL 3223 requirements in such a way that it avoids having to over-engineer a facility, and put in unnecessary equipment” says Schlattman. “For example, we look at the quality of the utility that provides a facility’s power. If the facility receives dual power feeds from different utilities or power plants, that provides a high degree of redundancy, and eliminates the need for continuous generators (although you still need emergency backup generators).”

“Some certification programs have outdated requirements that were created for technologies that existed 10 or 15 years ago,” Schlattman continued. “Many certification programs require a facility to upsize their equipment to meet load. If you tell them you have 8 megawatts of onsite power, they require you to upsize to 10 megawatts, at an extra cost of about $14 million. It’s for this reason that many data center owners don’t bother to get certifications for their facilities.”

“But UL 3223 requirements are based on server utilization. Server use in a facility averages 65% to 70%, and rarely goes above 80%, so if you have enough power to keep your servers running at 80% utilization, we consider that sufficient.”

While the UL 3223 certification is initially being offered only in the United States, UL and ESD Consulting have plans to expand it to Europe and Asia in 2018. Also, UL and ESD Consulting plan to offer UL 3223 sub-certifications, certifying facilities for cloud, healthcare, government, and financial clients. In addition, the two companies plan to offer certification and training for mission critical operations personnel as part of the UL 3223 program.

Robert S. Lindsay is a Seattle-based writer who writes for and about the data center industry. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Robert Lindsay

Robert S. Lindsay is a Seattle-based writer who writes for and about the data center industry. He can be reached at robertlindsay at strategicwordsmith.biz.

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