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Data Centres Are the Future

Technology is the future – Data centres are the future – Everything you do is now digitalised (from where you can park to checking whether you’re on voters roll)

Over the past number of years the word “data centre” has begun to be used in the media by several media outlets. With events such as Data Centre Africa Conference, Data Center facilities and the mass adoption of Mobile Devices, the general public has been introduced to the terminology and given some idea of its purpose and resolution.

Despite this the vast majority of people in Zimbabwe who are, outside of the industry, have no idea what data centres are or how modern life is totally dependent on them.

When delivering data centre seminars in Africa we often find ourselves defining what a data centre is and how we are serviced by them. After a presentation at a recent event, the chairman of Data Centre Africa was taken aside by a Senior Executive of a technology and communications business who said he broadly understood what a data centre was but not the extent of our personal, and his business’s dependency on them.

Data Centre Africa do understand why this is the case though, like much of what happens in IT Departments most users/employees only see what happens on their mobile device or desktop.

People only thought of IT services when things aren’t working properly. They are hidden in plain sight and in some ways they function as an enabler.

So for those people that know what data centres are and what they do for us it’s your time to switch off and for the uninitiated welcome to a whistle stop guide to data centres and what they do for you.

What is a data centre?

If you take the European Code of Conduct for Data Centre Energy Efficiency’s official definition “a data centre is any facility that houses computing equipment that is supported by its own dedicated power and cooling infrastructure”.

Wikipedia also has a definition for Data Centre.

Businessdictionary.com also defines it as “Computer facility designed for continuous use by several users, and well equipped with hardware, software, peripherals, power conditioning and backup, communication equipment, security systems, etc”.

All the definitions above describe the same type of installation. The thing to take from these is that none of them define a physical size or capacity. There is no minimum or maximum size for a data centre.

Most of the talk in the general media, and within the data centre industry itself, is about the big projects; facilities the size of multiple football pitches and housing thousands of cabinets. However most data centres are considerably smaller than this and many organisations operate their own business critical facilities in-house.

What do data centres do for us?

Certainly here in Zimbabwe we are totally dependent on data centres. In fact modern “life” as we know it would cease if we were to switch them all off. Quite literally everything and anything you can think of will have a level of dependency, so here’s a few to get you started; all mobile technology, phones and tablets etc, all forms of electronic payments for your groceries, your wages, your direct debits, mortgage, rent, Zimra, Zinara, ZEC, Insurance companies, Banks, Medical Aid, Hospitals, Power Companies, Telecommunication organisations, etc. All centralised transport systems, air travel and trains. Utilities, water, telephone, Zesa, broadband, etc. THE INTERNET and all that it does for us, such as banking, eBay, amazon, Facebook, Linkedin, WhatsApp, Wikipedia, YouTube and the list goes on and on and on. The television and radio programs we watch and listen to. Absolutely anything associated with the “Cloud”. Any imported goods whether by sea or air. This is just a few but you get the idea.

Data Centre Africa (DCA) chairman was speaking at a data centre conference in Africa and explained how countries with GPD’s predominantly based in agricultural production have a growing dependency on data centres, and to a degree are already tied in to services they provide. For example, Kenya is one of the world’s largest exporters of cut flowers and the industry employs a significant number of people. To ensure these products get to market fresh and vibrant they are air shipped to their destinations. This whole industry relies on data centres to both get the planes in the air and to complete all the financial transactions associated. The dependency deepens as mobile payment services are growing across the whole of the African continent incredibly quickly and many organisations now pay staff using their mobile phones, which rely on data centres to support such services.

What is the most important aspect of a data centre?

This will depend on the owner operator’s motivators and drivers but as a generalisation the most import aspect of a data centre is its ability to stay “on”. This is usually referred to as uptime. Most facilities are designed to provide the highest level of availability or uptime they can, within certain constraints. The major constraint often being the budget. Uptime is achieved by building resilience into systems. Resilience is achieved by building in redundancy. This means essentially having more elements such as pumps, chillers and other services than is required to operate the data centre. This means should one element fail there is enough capacity in the remaining functioning elements to maintain live services.

What is the future for data centres?

Put simply, “data centre is the future” and are here to stay. As we and the rest of the world become more dependent on technology, and in particular mobile technology, data centres will be at the heart of everything we do.

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