Deeshon Munshi, Business Manager – Data Centres & Telecoms (Middle East & Africa), Cummins
International Data Centre Day, observed on Wednesday 24 March this year, is a global movement aimed at generating awareness about the importance of data centres. Cummins is an active sponsor of this movement to teach the next generation best practice in terms of how to make data centres greener and better. The world generates a huge quantity of data on a daily basis. Therefore, this infrastructure is already an integral part of human existence. If we had to remove all of the data centres today, the world as we know it would stop functioning. Hence the main point of this occasion is to highlight how we can continue to develop technologies to allow these facilities to be the best that they can be.
In addition, Covid-19 has highlighted the criticality of this infrastructure. All of us, in every aspect of our lives, have had some indication of how essential data is in order to get our work done in this ‘new normal’ of remote working. Even a lot of government services are now online based. Bringing it even closer to home, the pandemic has shown that we need the necessary infrastructure to be in place in order for our children’s education to continue apace. All over the world there is going to be a generation of learners who graduated online.
We are not even talking about the global economy here, but about everyday services that impact the quality of our lives during Covid-19. Food delivery services now allow us to shop online for essential items. If it was not evident before, the pandemic has definitely shed light that all of these service providers and attendant businesses need resilient infrastructure. It also highlights the importance of choosing a solutions provider capable of dealing with these types of curveballs thrown our way.
One of our main advantages is the access to our experts in terms of our end-to-end solutions. It is not only about selling a product to the end user. We work with the customer from the initial concept. The conversation begins with us asking how we can make your data centre more energy efficient. How do we optimise what you spend on cooling, for example? Can we reduce all of the supporting loads so you are able to focus on your core equipment?
We then design and build the entire electrical system, from the power-supply side to the back-up power. We also work with leading external certification companies like the Uptime Institute to provide operators with the necessary third-party certification required for them, in turn, to be able offer their data centres services to critical clients of their own. We design, supply and build to whatever level of complexity is required. We offer remote monitoring and maintenance services for however long is required, which can be over the next 20 to 25 years.
Of course, while we have been at the forefront of innovation in terms of back-up power, which remains our core product offering to data centre operators, the most secure power source after the grid itself is diesel generation. Here our focus is on improving emission standards, so that even if a genset only runs for a short period, it does so at maximum efficiency. Our philosophy is to get more out of what we have. Recently we managed to optimise our 60 litre engine so it is now the most powerful engine in its class. These are massive engines, and even if we can increase the power output by a fraction, it makes a big difference in the overall efficiency and running costs.
We are also at the forefront of renewable energy through our New Power business unit, which currently operates the largest electrolyser facility in Canada to convert water into hydrogen as a fuel source. We are very excited as to what this will lead to over the next 24 to 48 months, as hydrogen is of keen interest right now. Renewable energy is currently playing a major role in powering data centres. In terms of solar power, for example, the challenge is that it is only effective during the day and can be impacted by local weather or climate change. If it is a back-up power solution, how much land resources are needed to construct an effective solar plant, for example?
I think we are at quite an interesting juncture at the moment in terms of the development of new power sources for data centres. Yes, tried-and-tested technologies are the most reliable option. However, we are seeing that a lot of hyperscale data centre operators, which includes the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Alibaba, are bolder in their outlook. Their facilities are several hundred times larger than a data centre for a regional bank, for example.
This puts into perspective the importance of innovation. We are seeing some interesting developments in trying out new technologies in order to create case studies for business scenarios that can be adopted in future by enterprise operators and other businesses. Therefore, the hyperscale operators are paving the way for the adoption of new technology throughout the data centre ecosystem.
One of the biggest issues here is how to optimise cooling, which can account for up to 50% of the electrical load of a typical data centre. Our customers are always on the lookout for more energy-efficient solutions. For example, a lot of work is going into data centre location, with some operators looking at higher altitudes to reduce the cooling requirements. In Europe, the trend is to locate these facilities on the coast so as to take advantage of the natural cooling provided by seawater.
The power required for cooling is an unavoidable component of the business case for any data centre. The issue becomes even more pressing in hot and water-scarce environments like Africa and the Middle East. In terms of sustainability, alternative technologies such as immersion cooling and liquid cooling promise to bring down the total power consumption. Once the technology improves, we will see not only a lot more energy-efficient facilities, but an increased adoption of sustainable energy sources for back-up and even primary power.
Power generation is a challenge in Africa and the Middle East, to the extent that a back-up power source is often the primary power source, largely due to the fact that the necessary infrastructure is still being developed, or that it needs to be expanded considerably. Governments are trying their best with limited resources, but Africa is a huge continent with a widespread population. It is both technically challenging and cost-prohibitive to deploy electrical grids. These challenges aside, it does not mean that the general population should not reap the benefits of innovation in terms of improved telecommunications and faster internet access.
In order for that to happen, we need reliable power. Not only that, but what do we do in the event of an electrical grid failing, as happened recently in Texas in the US? That is a highly developed market that does not have the same lack of infrastructure development that Africa has, but where its existing infrastructure simply failed in the face of an unprecedented natural disaster. This points again to the need for resilient infrastructure that is flexible and adaptable and responsive to global growth and development.