A recent study conducted by the strategic consulting and market research firm, BlueWeave Consulting, valued the datacentre market as worth USD 206,2 billion in 2021, predicting it would reach (an estimated) USD 404,9 billion by the end of 2022. The datacentre marketplace is growing at a pace and the African continent is certainly not lagging.

Jonathan Duncan, vice-president of secure power for Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric

Demand for datacentres across the continent

Although datacentres are an emerging market, there is an increased demand for them across the continent. According to Jonathan Duncan, vice-president of secure power for Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric, it is beneficial to implement tried and tested solutions, benefitting from the lessons learned and growing pains experienced by our peers across the pond.

Need for reliable power

The continent has its own unique challenges, with reliable power provisions influencing leading datacentre players’ investments into Africa. Reliable power provision is non-negotiable when establishing and running a datacentre. Unfortunately, some countries in Africa, including South Africa, cannot always guarantee this crucial requirement – as such, capex requirements and operational costs may be seriously impacted.

Other challenges within datacentres

There is a shortage of human capital and skilled datacentre workers are scarce, which reemphasises the need for creating awareness of this all-important technology space. Datacentres are warehouses of information and individuals must be encouraged to pursue careers tailored to the various elements and disciplines within datacentre operations.

Another pressing issue – that has the potential to hamper datacentre growth in Africa – is renewable energy. Many of the bigger players pursue “sustainability ambitions” and require greener datacentres, which often feature microgrids comprised of renewable distributed energy resources (DER) that drive down overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, taking the globe one step closer to carbon neutrality.

“A feasible solution could be to develop datacentres in tandem with renewable energy resources. For example, why not establish solar farms, primarily responsible for providing energy to a new datacentre?” notes Duncan.

New microgrid concept

The newest microgrid concepts and designs can optimise datacentre costs while also enhancing power stability, mitigating exposure to unplanned outages or other disturbances such as loadshedding.

When we reach maturity, energy costs should become variable aligned to the grid demand, and the adoption of microgrids can manage the consumption of on-site renewable or stored energy during peak grid demands. Stored energy could also in theory be sold back to the grid when most economical. Thus, the consumption of renewable energy can be maximised to meet GHG emissions targets.

Backup power systems (typically comprising diesel generators and an uninterrupted power supply, better known as a UPS) are essential to ensure continuity of service – it is not optimal to be designed to run continuously in consideration of GHG emissions. Moving towards a true microgrid requires alternative energy resources with intelligent control.

Efficient datacentre management

The efficient management of datacentres is essential. Datacentre infrastructure management (DCIM) has now entered its third iteration, aptly called DCIM 3.0. The focus is no longer on the traditional datacentre, but on all the connection points between the user and applications. Mission-critical infrastructure is everywhere and needs to be running 24/7.

To meet the needs of DCIM 3.0, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT architecture offers the monitoring, management, planning and modelling of IT physical infrastructure. It also provides flexible deployment options that include on-premises and cloud-based solutions to support distributed IT environments from a few core sites to thousands of dispersed sites at a global level and scale.

Potential for growth

Ultimately, Africa has the potential to meet datacentre growth head-on. However, investors will have to contemplate the abovementioned hurdles and solutions amongst others to establish a sustainable, future-proofed deployment.

For more information, visit https://www.se.com/za/en/.

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