In 2022, South Africans experienced 205 days of load shedding, with a CSIR report stating that businesses and individuals had no electricity for 43% of the hours in the year. January 2023 saw predictions of the same amount of load shedding this year, but the reality has been far worse. 21 March marked the first full-day suspension of load shedding this year, with the country experiencing 141 consecutive days of blackouts until then.
Organisations of all sizes have had to factor in a number of measures to combat the effects of load shedding. From adding generators and inverters to power essential hardware, to installing solar solutions to keep branches running, companies have access to a variety of solutions to help mitigate the potential damage caused by intermittent power supply. However, most of these involve hefty upfront investment, and many have added extra monthly expenses, like the cost of diesel to fuel generators.
This is prompting businesses to look at moving even more of their workloads to the cloud, transferring the costs of mitigating the effects of load shedding to the cloud provider. Nancy Govender, Business Unit Head for iOCO Hyperscale points out that while there hasn’t yet been a direct correlation between load shedding and increasing cloud investment, this will change.
“We are starting to see further acceleration into the cloud. The first wave of growing cloud investment was driven by the hyperscalers entering the local market. This helped push more interest in cloud, particularly among companies that worry about data sovereignty. The Covid-19 pandemic drove the next wave of cloud uptake, with many companies forced to look at new ways to do things to enable remote working. Now, businesses are looking at how they can ensure resilience in their own environment to deal with load shedding, and the cloud is looking more and more attractive,” she says.
Cost vs risk – Companies looking to safeguard their on-premises environments among frequent power failures are having to invest in additional infrastructure to continue to run their data centres. Among these are generators or solar installations. While generators are the quicker, easier solution to install, the cost of petrol and diesel has to be factored in to an organisation’s monthly running costs – a challenge when fuel prices are not very stable.
Operations Executive for iOCO Cloud and Security, Japie Botha says, migrating workloads to the cloud may seem more complicated, and potentially more costly, but when organisations factor in the monthly costs to keep operations running at all times, the skills needed to monitor infrastructure during power interruptions, and the up-front cost of purchasing alternative power solutions, the cloud ends up being a far more economical alternative.
“Over and above the most obvious challenges – and costs – of trying to create a resilient on-premise infrastructure in the face of regular power cuts, organisations also have to consider things like how to deal with or recover corrupt data due to a server going down during an outage. There are a lot more concerns, challenges and moving parts to watch in an on-premise data centre compared to a cloud environment,” he explains.
“Businesses have evaluated cost versus risk in most of their decisions, and this is no different. All the signs point to the fact that load shedding is not going away any time soon, so companies have to look at the long-term consequences of their current investments”, says Govender.
Built-in sustainability – With hyperscalers like AWS building and growing local data centres, most organisations are looking at a hybrid approach to ensure resilience while mitigating risk and costs. Very few companies can afford to invest as heavily in their own infrastructure to ensure load shedding never inconveniences the business, and even fewer can ensure that their data centres are environmentally sustainable.
“Environmental sustainability is slowly becoming more important as companies start having to do more comprehensive ESG reports. It may not be a hot-button topic right now, but it will definitely move up the list of priorities in the near future,” Govender says.
“Most cloud providers are not only building environmentally sustainable data centres, but are actively contributing to a more environmentally friendly power grid in the future. AWS, for example, has built one of the largest solar farms in South Africa to power its local data centres,” Botha says.
Amazon has built a 10-megawatt solar plant, which will ultimately generate up to 28 000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy per year. The solar plant consists of over 24 000 bifacial solar panels—capturing sunlight on both sides—covering an area of 20 hectares in the Northern Cape.
“Why should a company add the cost overhead and stress of trying to deal with load shedding and environmental sustainability over and above their day-to-day infrastructure challenges when the cloud providers are already building resilience into theirs?” Govender asks.
“Whether it’s load shedding, cable theft, or even connectivity challenges, businesses can’t get away from the risk of power interruptions. Cloud providers are finding innovative and creative solutions to these challenges. Cloud has already proved itself an extremely resilient platform, and as more companies start seeing the benefits of migrating their workloads across, they are starting to appreciate that cloud will not only help them reduce costs, but reduce risk as well.”