With the help of data centres, we can take advantage of many conveniences in our everyday lives. They are the physical infrastructure behind cloud computing. In South Africa, Microsoft data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town are operating around the clock to support a spectrum of critical services, from the life-saving work of doctors and first responders to essential services like groceries and online banking.
At the same time, data centres also empower everyday necessities like food deliveries, remote work, and video calls to family. As South Africans deal with the increasing frustration of rolling blackouts, market researchers and energy consultants are calling data centres critical enablers of modern society – including how they foster hybrid work schedules that reduce travel and allow office buildings to use less electricity, thereby reducing the load on the country’s ailing energy infrastructure.
Working in the background
Despite the role data centres play in different aspects of people’s lives, most people do not give them a second thought. Yet, from healthcare to grocery shopping, from online schools to online banking, it is difficult to think of many corners of life that are not dependent on cloud services hosted in data centres.
Data centres are critical on a national and a societal level but are also essential if you look from the perspective of individual businesses. Today, most South African companies have either fully migrated to the cloud or use hybrid clouds and external data services. Thus, it has become difficult to imagine a business operating and relying on just what they have in the server room.
And for consumers themselves, the modern world would be far more time-consuming and arduous without the conveniences of online purchases and fully stocked stores. This spans products that provide the elements for family meals, clothes, and the latest home repairs – in basic terms: food, clothing, and shelter.
It is fair to say many items in your house, on your shelves, in your medicine cabinet, in your garage, and in your dresser are there because of data centres.
Data centres are also increasingly necessary for making businesses run efficiently. Many CEOs across South Africa seek ways to visualise and glean insights from their supply chains.
Global supply chains produce massive and diverse data streams. Data centres help companies make all that data accessible, manageable, and insightful within the business between different departments. These data insights mean value creation, which adds to the bottom line.
In challenging times, businesses focus on improving the top line (their revenues) and customer insights. The focus is on the best ways to engage with the customer and increase the value proposition. They are doing that in more efficient ways by using the right channel to reach customers and having the best price and product to reach them. This is all data-driven.
Inside those same companies, many employees who carry out those tasks continue to do their jobs within remote locations. They rely on the cloud to communicate with their colleagues via video calls, virtual meetings, instant messages, and file sharing. Those functions – the foundation of hybrid work all run through data centres.
Businesses and entire economies are increasingly driven by the benefits of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data – the pillars of the fourth industrial revolution.
The Microsoft Cloud can be between 22 and 93 percent more energy efficient than traditional data centres, depending on the specific comparison being made. Data centres provide energy efficiency because they centralise the long list of devices and technologies needed to generate computing power – from the network to the switches to all that data storage.
Companies don’t need to have their own hardware facilities, their own data centre heating or cooling, their own network, their own backup, or their own technology infrastructure. Microsoft is helping to add clean capacity to the grid by signing recent purchase agreements for more than five gigawatts of renewable energy worldwide. Those agreements include more than 15 individual deals in Europe, spanning Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, and Spain.
South Africa is one of many countries dealing with an energy crisis. Even in Europe, there is a constant threat of brownouts and blackouts. Does that mean the data centre providers will have to turn the lights off and all run-on diesel generators? Hopefully not, because they have got energy-efficient systems in place.
The reality today is that the data centre touches on virtually everything we do in our professional and personal capacities.
By Thiani Ramaya, Business Practice Lead for Microsoft at Westcon-Comstor