Tech advances mean datacenters need more cooling – does yours?
Datacentres are out of date. They are built to last but, let’s face it, technology changes fast. What’s under the hood in a datacentre today often far outpaces the capabilities of the structure built to house it. Modernisation is on the cards for data centres globally. For South African data centres, cooling is going to be a priority.
Increased use of technology and advances in technology mean more power, cooling and space are required in data centres. As demand continues to grow, data centres are being compelled to upgrade. In fact, IDC puts modernisation high on its list of 10 key predictions for the global data centre market. It forecasts that by 2020 the demands of next-generation apps and new IT architectures will force 55% of enterprises to upgrade their existing facilities or deploy new facilities. Does that hold true for datacentres in Africa and South Africa?
SA data centres get the basics right
Datacentres power businesses, serving up the connectivity and functionality needed to operate, communicate and transact. In South Africa, a number of new datacentres are now being built. Microsoft has, for example, recently announced that it will deliver cloud services from data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2018. The drivers are not just the fundamental growth in data and the criticality of always-on connectivity to function in a digital business environment, there are clear advantages to keeping data local—bandwidth is cheaper, the data is more secure in terms of where it is stored, and it’s still easier to meet local data security and privacy regulations than to jump through foreign hoops if data is stored or served up via international data centres. For both older data centres and the new centres in design and build phases, getting the basics right will be fundamental.
For a data centre two things are vital: power and cooling. If either of these elements fail, the data centre will fail. And today the cost of failure is high—for every business that has a server on a rack. Redundancy is key. Diesel generators can take care of power needs if the main feed goes down, but what about cooling capacity? In Africa, power outages remain a reality, energy costs are rising and temperatures can be extreme all year round. This impacts datacentre operations from a functional and cost perspective.
Advanced cooling for different applications
Data centres need lots of cooling fast and this usually means big chillers with high capacity outputs are required. These require considerable investment. They also come with 20-35 year lifespans, which is not always a good thing. Older cooling equipment requires a lot of power—and time—to start up and reach the right cooling outputs, putting a lot of pressure on power supplies, especially where there has been a power failure and generators are in use. More modern, advanced chillers, with features such as fast soft-start variable speed drives (VSDs), which easily and rapidly adapt outputs to meet changes in the environment while delivering optimised energy efficiencies, offer more benefits. This drives the case for upgrading and for ensuring that appropriate cooling solutions are part of the design.
What cooling equipment is implemented will depend where the data centre is situated and the rationale driving the acquisition of the cooling equipment. If, for example, energy efficiency is key, a solution like Johnson Controls’ YMC2 water cooled chiller—the most efficient VSD chiller on the market which takes only 20 seconds to get to full load capacity (rather than 20 minutes) — may be the answer. However, it may not be the most effective solution if the data centre is located in water-scarce Cape Town or elsewhere in Africa.
In these instances, an air-cooled chiller, like the YORK YVFA Air-Cooled Variable Speed Drive Screw Chiller may be more suitable. In addition to its VSD compressor, which lowers energy consumption, it has one independent refrigerant circuit per compressor, providing ultimate redundancy. So, even if a compressor fails, partial cooling capacity can be maintained via the second or third circuit. Another advance worth considering in this chiller is its energy-optimised hybrid cooling mode and air-to-liquid free cooling coils. These are intelligently controlled to maximise efficiency year-round, automatically. In fact, Johnson Controls is the first manufacturer to utilise free-cooling coils that are integrated within the chiller.
For precision air conditioning in data centres, custom close control air conditioners like the YORK YC-P range of close control units (CCUs) are useful. IDC predicts that by 2021, the expanded use of power-hungry accelerated computing technologies will have forced most major data centre operators to adopt a modular approach to deploying power/cooling assets in their facilities.
Unlike comfort air conditioning, close control systems operate constantly 24/7, so they need to be high on reliability and low on power consumption. Since no two critical cooling requirements are the same, custom CCUs make good sense. They usually come in a variety of models, from 20kW to 150kW range and are available as either direct expansion or free cooling models and EC variable speed motors for energy efficiency. The added value of these units is that they can integrate with a building management system (BMS) an increasingly vital component for controlling the data centre environment.
A BMS dashboard can be customised to constantly report on key indicators of the health of the centre, such as the status of the power supply, the charge left in batteries, fuel status of generators and the temperature in the data centre. With constant monitoring and alerts, the data centre’s risk is lowered and controls are increasingly automated.
As data centres continue to expand their client bases in South Africa, ensuring that the fundamentals – power and cooling – are in place means exploring new chiller technology in the planning and design phase to ensure benefits, and doing the math and taking action on modernisation of more established centres.
Neil Cameron is the General Manager of Building Efficiency at Johnson Controls Area – Africa.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”