How SA's tech firms navigate load-shedding pain

Read time 4min 50sec

Just like other sectors of the South African economy, last week's power blackouts did not spare South African technology companies.

ITWeb contacted several tech firms to gauge how Eskom's load-shedding impacted their businesses and the measures they put in place to keep the lights on.

It emerged the technology firms, though armed with business continuity plans, felt the pain of the rolling blackouts.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued yesterday, power utility Eskom said no load-shedding is anticipated this week due to the electricity system gradually improving.

"The improvement in plant performance, together with replenished diesel and water reserves over the last few days, as well as the increase of imports from Mozambique's Cahora Bassa to 850MW, has positively shifted system performance.

"The risk of load-shedding remains, as the system continues to be vulnerable. Load-shedding will only be implemented when absolutely necessary," Eskom says.

In the previous bout of load-shedding last month, telcos said load-shedding has a devastating effect on all mobile operators, significantly increasing operational costs associated with keeping base stations alive and protected, and negatively impacts customer experience.

Cloud computing benefits

Responding to ITWeb's questions via e-mail, pan-African telecoms company Liquid Telecom SA says in preparing for the planned load-shedding, the company put in place measures to ensure its customers will be minimally impacted.

"To mitigate the impact of load-shedding, our data centres, point of presence and co-location facilities are equipped with battery-powered uninterrupted power source (UPS) and generator facilities.

However, the company notes that while this infrastructure is designed to support power outages, it cannot do so for protracted periods.

"We have, therefore, prepared a further risk mitigation plan since we experienced power outages that are much longer than we have planned for and, thus, we have contracted additional standby generators as well as fuel providers to manage the extended power outages.

"We have also recently started the rollout of an IOT device that will provide a further layer of feedback with respect to power outages. Liquid is well-prepared to manage forthcoming power outages; however, these special arrangements are costly and increase overall cost of operations."

For Ian Jansen van Rensburg, lead technologist and senior systems engineering manager at VMware Sub-Saharan Africa, it is harder to get to customers due to traffic congestion during load-shedding, and working from home is also becoming a challenge due to long power cuts.

He points out that those customers making use of large diesel generators to keep their data centres running are suffering from increased costs, which is directly affecting several budgets.

Nonetheless, he says, a positive is that more businesses might look at cloud computing as an option to ensure uptime and stability of their business-critical applications.

"From an IT point of view, cloud solutions that have their own power consumption and are not being affected by load-shedding are becoming more of a viable option," says Jansen van Rensburg.

Less dependent

Inus Dreckmeyr, CEO of Netshield South Africa, reveals the company installed a 12Kva inverter for solar/generator and grid-assisted power feeds with about 16 front terminal 12V 200AH batteries that keeps the lights and office going during load-shedding.

He explains the advantage of such a solution is that Netshield can add solar panels in future; connecting the system to the grid, then using it as a primary source for electricity and only switching back to the grid once needed.

"This will reduce our electricity bill. We will also not have the expense of diesel and the noise of a generator. We view this as a starting point to become less dependent on Eskom and their future tariffs as well as keeping up productivity in our office during these 'dark' days," says Dreckmeyr.

Paul Ruinaard, country manager SADC at Nutanix, comments: "We have seen customers are switching budgets from purchasing new hardware to ensuring they have backup generators and batteries to ensure business continuity."

According to Ruinaard, plans for expansions and new applications are being shelved by companies now needing to ensure they are simply able to keep the lights on.

"This came out of the blue and although many people have backup generators and battery backup plans, they aren't prepared for four- to five-hour outages repeatedly, which translate to them not having enough backup capacity in terms of diesel storage, battery capacity, etc, for the level of outages we are seeing."

Markus Bodenstein, national key accounts manager at Axis Communications SA, say load-shedding has a huge impact on all businesses and people's day-to-day lives.

"That being said, your security system shouldn't be affected negatively by load-shedding."

Axis Communications is a Swedish manufacturer of network cameras for the physical security and video surveillance industries.

"If you are running a generator or UPS, the wattage on your cameras (depending on the vendor) should be extremely low, hence you are able to run all your cameras or a portion thereof without sacrificing too much capacity on your generator or UPS.

"We all know load-shedding has a negative impact on electronic devices and any form of technology that is dependent on electricity. When the electricity kicks back in, there can be extensive and lengthy booting times."

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