Beyond the blackout

Issue 2/3 2023 IT infrastructure, Security Services & Risk Management

It seems like yesterday, and, yet a lifetime ago that we as a technology industry had to deal with one of the greatest crises of recent times – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overnight, we were tasked with implementing digital systems and infrastructures that would take the core operations of South African enterprises and allow them to function online and remotely. Our clients wanted it to be ‘business as usual’ in the most unusual of times, a seamless transition to the digital transformation both they, and our country needed to have happen.

We made it happen. We found solutions. We had the technology to do so.

But now South Africa is faced with a challenge that dwarfs the pandemic. There is no greater threat to South African businesses than load shedding. It is that simple and that stark. It touches every aspect of us as a nation, as a people and as industries attempting to stabilise and grow the country.

It is the most disruptive challenge of our generation. Just ask the CEOs of large enterprises who have been speaking about how hard they have been hit by the blackouts. Just ask the business leaders who fear for what the greater knock-on impact is across all sectors. Just ask the Reserve Bank Governor who says almost a billion rand is lost every day in South Africa because of load shedding. Just ask economists who estimate almost a percentage point has been shaved off the country’s GDP because of Eskom’s struggles.

As with the pandemic, the technology industry needs to find solutions to the challenges load shedding creates for large enterprises in particular. The silver lining is in the cloud.

The cloud has been the defining trend in technology for some years. Back in 2015, one of the worst years of load shedding with 2003 hours of blackouts, there was already talk about how load shedding was forcing more companies to not only migrate to the cloud, but to take more of their operations there. Eight years later, with load shedding hitting South Africa every day this year, the conversation needs to be less about possibly moving to the cloud but of the absolute necessity to do so to future-proof enterprises.

The basics are that storing and transmitting data is reliant on power. It is estimated that data storage and transmission use one to two percent of global electricity, which is predicted to rise to a fifth of the world’s power output by 2040. If you are an enterprise that hosts your data centre onsite, this puts your productivity, continuity, and security at the whims of a power supply that is under massive strain. The choice is either to opt for significant capex in renewable energy or generators, or to use the infrastructure and back-up that is already on offer from cloud service providers.

That way businesses can effectively pass the problem of load shedding on to the provider, who has already invested in the infrastructure. The big players in the cloud space have their redundant power and back-up systems, and in many cases have invested in renewable energy both to keep their costs down and limit the impact on the climate. With the big players, such as Alibaba, for instance, the data is backed-up to multiple locations around the world, ensuring accessibility despite challenges in particular geographies.

With a constant, safe backup of data, there are no continuity issues or lost data. Work can carry on as per normal during a power outage because the workloads and data are readily accessible. Employees are also able to continue working offline if needed and have their work backed up automatically to the cloud when the power comes back in their location.

The cloud’s benefits are enormous and ever-evolving: agility, resiliency, flexibility, better security, increase in performance and savings in technology spend gives the potential to integrate innovation and expand the enterprise’s capabilities. The cloud is also becoming increasingly cost-effective. The benefits we saw from the forced digital transformation will grow exponentially as companies move more of their workloads and structures to the cloud.

Just as the pandemic accelerated the move to the cloud, so should load shedding provide the necessary impetus for wholesale migration. The question companies should be asking themselves is not whether they need the cloud to help them remain competitive, but how they will be able to function in a digital era without the cloud. It is the silver lining to take us beyond the blackout.

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