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Up and running: Data centre providers burn the midnight oil to keep the new oil flowing


MUMBAI: When the government declared data centres as essential service at the onset of the lockdown, many spent between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2 crore on staff safety and site maintenance to keep the data centres running.

At least 40 data centres across major metros like Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru and Chennai, kept critical staff — 10-25 per location — within the premises for over three months of the lockdown in order to minimise the risk of employees getting exposed to Covid-19. These were all male members in their 20s and 30s, the companies told ET.

Data centre providers were able to offset the additional expenditure due to a sudden surge in demand for data storage and computing capacity from companies as online traffic and transactions surged during the lockdown. Most commercial data centres saw business grow by 80-100% in the last four months.

In some cases, employees of these companies have spent over 100 days away from their home and family, either on-site or at hotels arranged by the company nearby.

While 60%-65% of work at a data centre can be performed remotely, it is critical for some technical and on-site 24×7 to maintain and monitor different parameters that ensure the system works smoothly.

“Even if one person were to catch the virus, the rest of the staff on duty would have to be quarantined and the data centre would have to remain shut for a brief period for sanitisation. And we have to keep the data centre running all the time,” says Nikhil Rathi, CEO of Web Werks, a data centre provider that rents space to companies to host their servers and equipment for data storage and computing at three locations — Navi Mumbai, Pune, and Noida — in India.

Commercial data centres like Web Werks store and run data applications of various companies across sectors like healthcare, ecommerce, banking, e-learning, video-streaming, telecom, cloud companies, and government agencies, among others. The internet practically runs through servers hosted at these centres.


“One night of downtime at a data centre can wreak havoc especially during these times when everyone is communicating and transacting online,” says Mayuresh Annegiri, GM of data centre operations and technology at Web Werks. Annegiri worked and stayed onsite at Web Werks’ data centre in Rabale at Navi Mumbai from March 17 to July 7, 2020. “For a brief period, we could stay at the nearby hotel. Their kitchen was shut so we arranged for a cook who could prepare food for 25-odd people. Shortly after, though, the hotel turned into a quarantine facility for police personnel from the area as their teammate had tested positive.”

For most of their stay on-site, Annegiri and team used company provided mattresses and duvets and bunkered up in meeting rooms inside the data centre. “It was like living inside a Big Boss house, sans all the fighting,” he quips.

At another data centre provider called GPX, 48 members of its staff were stationed on-site across its two centres in Mumbai. While most of the technical staff has been recently replaced with those who were working from home all this while, about one-fourth of them — like the security personnel — still haven’t left.

(This story is part of a series of articles in association with Facebook. Facebook has no editorial role in this story)

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