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Q&A: Ask an expert – Trends amongst SA’s data centres

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Brendan Dysel

We’ve been hearing much about data centres recently – not only about the benefits of locally-hosted data, but also about the intense operational requirements of data centres, and the idea of “going green”. We spoke to Teraco’s Brendan Dysel for an update on the South African data centre industry. If you have more questions, contact him:

What recommendations do you have for data centre power management? 

Data centre power management is becoming a key differentiator in the data centre market. With the ongoing load shedding, voltage fluctuations are becoming more frequent and can have disastrous effects on legacy data centre builds, specifically on the refrigerant cooling systems in terms of predicted life spans. Power management is a useful tool to understand where losses are generated within the system allowing for better future designs and power optimisation to reduce these losses linked to IT usage rather than end state design parameters. This ultimately provides vendor neutral colocation providers with a tool set to monitor and manage power usage and losses within the electrical and mechanical facility as colocation providers do not have control over the client’s IT environment. In terms of power management products, there are many competitive options in the market which can be tailor-made to the data centre’s power management requirements.

Is “going green” really viable?

With an influx of international organisations deploying in South Africa, green and renewable energies are deemed the norm to these clients. Finding greener designs to reduce mechanical energy is an absolute prerequisite in today’s South African data centre designs. With the proposed NERSA power increases over the next three years, these green designs will escalate the return-on-investment of the capital equipment and provide the data centre operators with better efficiencies, thus reducing the burden on clients with increased electricity prices.

What challenges are present in back-up power? What needs to be considered, and how does the SA context play a role?

If regular maintenance has not been conducted on generators or fuel systems in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations or industry best practices, the current load shedding being experienced in South Africa could pose major risks in terms of resiliency. Many data centres do not realise that fuel has a storage shelf life if not maintained correctly with regular fuel analysis tests. Back-to-back fuel agreements must be in place to guarantee fuel delivery in a timeous manner under these load shedding conditions.

How has the South African data centre landscape changed in the past two years?

The push in terms of design has definitely moved towards greener solutions and where possible, the use of renewable energy. Designs have also moved towards accommodating hyperscale clients, but remaining flexible enough, however, to still cater for the retail colocation environment.

What does it mean to be a vendor-neutral data centre?

The advantage of a true vendor neutral data centre is that the data centre provider is purely focused on critical engineering infrastructure, physical security and interconnections between clients and the ecosystem. This enables dedicated skill sets to focus on the heart of the data centre, ensuring world class service and quality in maintaining the uptime and service level agreements.

Hyperscale seems topical. Can you outline this trend and why it is becoming so relevant?

The hyperscale trend is progressing in South Africa. The announcements by Amazon and Microsoft are evidence of this. Digital transformation is a reality and hyperscale is an enabler of this evolution and is a pillar of the “the third platform”, an term coined by the IDC which comprises of analytics, big data, hyperscale and mobile. Defined, hyperscale computing refers to an architecture that expands and contracts based on the current needs of the business. That scalability is seamless and involves a robust system with flexible memory, networking, and storage capabilities. The risk is not architecting your network to be software-defined. The cloud is only as good as your network. You need to adopt a digital approach with an aim to build a network using the pillars of the third platform.

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