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How data centres must cope with drought

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Data centres are utility-hungry installations that require always-on supplies of power and cooling. This means electricity – possibly as much as two percent of the world’s energy – and often, it means water.

As our demand for data, and the infrastructure in which to store it, skyrockets, the data centre industry has demonstrated remarkable ability to improve energy efficiency as it scales. While this technology is currently developed outside South Africa’s borders, threats to our utilities – first load shedding and now the drought in Cape Town – has prompted fresh thinking when local data centres are built and extended.

The fact is that data centres cannot be allowed to go dark – not for lack of electricity or water. The effects of a total loss of data on commercial, financial and government services would be catastrophic.

Internet Solutions’ Bree Street data centre, online since 2007, is an example of legacy infrastructure that was designed with water chillers when the resource was plentiful.

After an intensive study by its coastal data centre operations teams, the company is now replacing these with a closed loop system of air-cooled chillers to reduce water consumption by about 60 percent, while running the data centre slightly warmer than usual to further save water.

Sameer Cassim, R&D Systems Architect at Internet Solutions, says that environmental necessity and shifting client demand are driving the design of data centres built for change and flexibility.

“This includes power and cooling systems that are more agile and resilient,” he says.

Prefabricated for the future

Cassim believes that modular data centre builds, assembled using several prefabricated units, are the way of the future. The first such installation in the Internet Solutions portfolio comes online in Rosebank, Johannesburg, later this year.

Modular design future-proofs investment in the facility – additional modules can scale density up or down, decrease racks or increase cooling to offer clients a flexible data centre service that remains at the forefront of industry standards and changing business requirements.

“Prefabricated data centres are rapidly deployed, allowing operators to scope and redesign each section based on current power, cooling, security and network requirements or availability, says Cassim.

Modern data centre management

Smart monitoring of the data centre environment means intelligent switching between systems for the most favourable conditions in the data centre, and more utility savings.

“Modern software tools enable intelligence from initial modelling, through ongoing monitoring and management, to orchestrated, automatic response to incidents and failures to avoid outages,” says Cassim.

“Like many other aspects of IT, power and cooling management will increasingly become a software-defined activity.”

Intuitive transfer between cooling systems, for example, results in water-dependent cooling used only when necessary, before its load is passed to air cooling systems.

Cassim says that software-defined power management allows data centre operators to virtualise the resource and share it at different instances, based on demand, with various consumers. Depending on activity in the data centre and relevant SLAs, operators can reduce both Capex and Opex spend by ensuring that power is delivered to equipment at the right time and scale, without any losses or waste.

Energy conservation and renewables

The 2016 Cisco Global Cloud Index maintains that annual global data centre IP traffic will reach 15.3 zettabytes or ZB (1.3 ZB per month) by the end of 2020, up from 4.7 ZB per year (390 exabytes or EB per month) in 2015. Further, the data stored in data centres globally will quintuple by 2020 to reach 915 EB by 2020.

It is safe to assume that the utility implications, including carbon footprint, of various data centre technologies will become increasingly relevant in parallel. Again, this is particularly true in South Africa.

A recent study conducted by the US Department of Energy in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that despite demand for data centre capacity in the US growing tremendously in the last five years, total data centre energy consumption grew only slightly.

One of many successful initiatives undertaken by data centre technologists is the Open Compute Platform, which uses a decentralised Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) to improve energy efficiency by removing the power supply from the server.

Another is an Australian indirect evaporative air cooling technology that is inspired by the human body’s own cooling mechanism. Internet Solutions is currently looking at rolling out a ‘proof of concept’ of this system in one of its smaller data centres in Johannesburg.

Alternative energy sources are also under constant study although so far, alternatives such as solar, hydro, geothermal and fuel cell technology are not openly received by data centre operators as the power supply is insufficiently consistent and reliable for uptime.

“We’re seeing a new trend towards installing ‘microgrids’ into data centres which split power sources for different activities,” says Cassim.

This allows carefully limited use of renewable resources, with the source selector equipped to intelligently programme the supply based on minimal demand.

“Cape Town’s drought provided a very immediate reason to examine how we could adapt systems at our Bree Street location,” says Cassim. “Given shifting weather patterns around the world, it’s not surprising that the international trend is towards reducing reliance on utility resources altogether.”

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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