How load-shedding cripples South African data centres

Load-shedding has quickly become a reality again for South Africans, with people having to adjust their daily movements to account for power outages.

Businesses are also heavily affected by these outages, and sustained periods of load-shedding are set to have a negative effect on the economy.

Core services are supposed to be exempt from load-shedding, but businesses which provide crucial services are not so lucky.

Perhaps one of the most hard-hit sufferers are data centres, which host everything from exchange points, content delivery nodes, and websites to financial databases and cloud-based services.

These complex and highly-secure facilities are built with multiple layers of redundancy to ensure that they never stop functioning, and are designed from the ground-up to minimise the risk of interruption.

When a data centre’s power is cut due to load-shedding, power is provided by a number of diesel generators. These generators usually have their own backups for redundancy purposes, and are capable of powering data centre operations for many hours.

Speaking in an interview with MyBroadband, Internet Solutions Data Centres executive head Matthew Ashe said that running a data centre in this configuration under load-shedding can be a problem, however.

“Not sustainable”

When asked how the threat of load-shedding can affect the running costs of a data centre, he said both the equipment and running costs are affected.

“One thing you have to factor in is the rating of the equipment,” Ashe said. “From a generator perspective, you get prime rating and standby rating.”

He said that while standby-rated generators would be acceptable in other countries, they are not sufficient for applications in South Africa.

“Overseas, you would buy a lower-rated generator because you know that it will run probably twice a year for an hour,” Ashe said.

“Whereas in South Africa, we have to buy higher-rated generators because we use them so much more.”

Ashe added that while these higher-rated generators are more expensive, it is the running costs of the hardware that is the major problem.

“The cost of the diesel to run the generators during outages is the one that hurts the most,” Ashe said.

“We have done some really rough calculations, and we found a four-and-a-half hour load-shed could cost a data centre R100,000.”

With Eskom predicting regular load-shedding for the future, he said the price of co-location and hosting services in South Africa may be impacted.

“But if we knew that there was going to be constant load-shedding for years, then we can’t carry those kind of losses for that period of time,” Ashe said. “It wouldn’t be sustainable.”

“We would rather Eskom increase their fees and spend the money on their infrastructure, as it will still be cheaper for us than running on diesel.”

Now read: Eskom wants government to take on its debt

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How load-shedding cripples South African data centres