Data Driven Innovation Strategies: opportunities from Big Data and Data Centres

May 4, 2016
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Big Data is a fast-growing global industry with growth forecasted at 26.4% CAGR to $41.5 billion by 2018 according to the IDC. Big Data is the analysis of high-volume data to uncover valuable insights and create value for business and governments, pertinent to Smart City initiatives and business’ innovation strategies. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) investment in Southern Africa has provided the ultimate Big Data challenge and creating opportunities to develop the industry, the high computational and analytical skills required, and establish data centre infrastructure. We recently unpacked the opportunities to build Big Data skills and data centres in Cape Town and data-driven innovation strategies at our Thought Leaders Breakfast.

First we heard from Stephen Green, Dimension Data’s MEA Executive for their Data Centre Business Unit on the global growth of data centres. Stephan stated that the digital explosion has generated considerable amounts of data i.e. in 2012, we created more data than the previous 5000 years. For this data to become valuable, it needs to be stored and analysed and thus data centres have become a huge opportunity. Stephan estimated that with 300 million companies in the USA, that there are 3 million data centres and collectively, data centres would be the size of Spain.

With the average data centre having 50,000 – 100,000 servers, Microsoft use approximately 1.2 – 1.3 million servers, and Amazon Web Services have 40 – 80 million servers globally. One of the main issues of data centres is the power utilisation, but also the property costs, the cooling required and the security of the data. With technology evolving so quickly, data centres are out of date in 7 years according to Gartner, so companies need to change their mind set and also think of utilising the elasticity of a hybrid cloud solution with legacy environments.

Next we heard from Raven Naidoo, senior consultant at Radian Consulting and advisor to both the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Government on telecommunications and broadband strategies. Raven shared details about the SKA investment in South Africa and Cape Town which will create an unprecedented amount of data. The phased project plans to have 190 Satellite dishes operational by 2022 (Phase 1) and 1000 by 2040. Data from Phase 1 will be processed in a Tier 0 science data processing facility (international community usage).  A national data processing facility for storage and analysis (Tier 1) will be collocated with the Tier 0 facility. A local Tier 2 facility will be set up as a regional collaboration between local academic and research institutions.

South Africa is already capturing and analysing astronomy data from the MeerKAT telescope through the Centre for High Performance Computing. Raven said that the new high performance computer in the Tier 0 science data processor will be in the global top 20 by processing power – as rated by the Top500 super computer organisation. What is also remarkable is that South African students have won the Student Cluster Competition for the 2013 and 2014  International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis and came 2nd in 2015. As a result, Dell has made a commitment of R120 million to the  Centre for High Performance Computing in South Africa over 10 years. The Western Cape Government also sees the value in this sector and is investing in data driven innovation strategies i.e. infrastructure, policies and skills, to develop the market further.

This Big Data and Data Centre event forms part of Accelerate Cape Town’s Digital Cape Town Programme and will be followed-up by a Data Exchange workshop to unlock the value of data between government and business.

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