The supply of stable electricity and reliable data storage capacity are two of the biggest challenges that companies in Africa continue to grapple with.
Only this week, strong winds in Nairobi affected the supply of power in the capital and surrounding areas, leading to downturns that affected both businesses and retail consumers.
How are these problems to be addressed?
To solve the first challenge, companies like Schneider Electric have come up with intelligent power backup systems that can predict fluctuations in the supply of electricity, and thus provide a buffer which ensures that critical equipment in a business or other premises are not affected.
Using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, these systems can protect factory or business equipment by, for instance, raising the power entering into a circuit system in the event that power from the main supply line goes below the required voltage. And where there is a power surge, the Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) equipment can absorb the extra voltage and protect the equipment from damage.
Where these fluctuations are all too common, the equipment automatically programmes itself to predict the fluctuations and respond appropriately. In the event that the person responsible for maintaining the system is not on site, the equipment can be monitored remotely. And because they are intelligent, they learn when the factory or business closes down for the day or weekend and conserves power automatically, meaning that the business owners will not pay extra to utility companies for power that they have not consumed.
Schneider Electric is calling such innovations “Edge Computing”.
“Enterprise environments are set to be the first to adopt Edge Computing,” Dr Glenn Duncan, a consultant and researcher told Business Daily during a company event in Singapore.
Edge Computing is a solution that can help companies in countries like Kenya where the cost of electricity is higher compared to countries like Ethiopia and South Africa.
“Edge Computing is about the customer experience,” said Kevin Brown, the Senior Vice President for Innovation at Schneider.
And yesterday, the firm unveiled what is now regarded as the world’s smallest Data Centre and UPS to be known as EcoStruxure Data Centre C-Series. The beauty of the innovation is that the inside is designed in racks, which offers two advantages; the first is that if the components in any of the racks develop a problem, they can be fixed without interfering with the rest of the equipment. The second is that a company can increase or reduce the number of racks depending on its needs.
For instance, if one needs more UPS space and less data space, the racks can be used interchangeably. And because of the modular design, the user can add or remove racks without necessarily calling in expert help. That means if a landlord has a new tenant who needs data services, this can be installed seamlessly without affecting the other tenants.
The innovation is equipped with sensors, which can alert the owner in the event that there is a water leakage.
“The sensors can be inside or outside the Data Centre,” Bhagwati Prasad, the Vice President for Offer Management told Business Daily ahead of the launch.
The Data Centre/UPS also has an internal camera that makes it possible for the person responsible for monitoring it to see whenever there is a problem inside. The camera images are also accessible to the supplier, meaning that if there is a problem that only the supplier can fix, it can be diagnosed even before an engineer is sent to the site.
Despite its small size, the innovation comes with a micro-data centre, meaning that it offers both power and data solutions while also conserving space. This could be ideal in places like Nairobi where the cost of renting a square foot of office space can be relatively high. Because it comes equipped with brackets, it does not have to occupy floor space. It can be fixed to a wall or ceiling, and since it has a strong fire suppression system, it poses little or no risk to the safety of employees.
Whereas many systems are closed to other vendors, the new UPS is compatible with systems supplied by Dell or Sysco, meaning that firms can integrate the innovation with the other systems they are already running.
The data centre, with a steel casing, can also be customised to come in the corporate colours of the buyer, so they can be installed even in front offices
For places that are dusty, the inside is painted with dust-proof coating, meaning that if the system is inbuilt into an ATM machine, say in the middle of dusty town, the ATM will not break down because of dust clogging its innards.