The mines of the future

As mines get more high-tech, server infrastructure becomes vital. Zella DC has designed a micro data centre specifically for the Australian mining industry.

Zella DC CEO and co-founder Angie Keeler.

As mines get more high-tech, server infrastructure becomes a vital consideration. That’s why Zella DC has designed a micro data centre specifically for the Australian mining industry.

The mines of the future aren’t just producing massive amounts of ore, they’re also creating a truly eye-watering amount of data.

As technologies like autonomous vehicles, drones, digital twins, remote monitoring, and the Internet of Things (IoT) become more popular, the data required to operate this new way of doing business is ballooning.

Cloud-based storage and access technology can provide a way for miners and their equipment to access this data, but this can become expensive as the sheer amount of data increases.

Keeping a dedicated data centre in a server room on-site also has its challenges, as they require constant cooling, can be complex to install and use up a lot of electricity that could be better spent elsewhere.

Angie Keeler, chief executive officer and co-founder of micro data centre specialist Zella DC, said finding a solution to these challenges is what led to the company’s creation.

“We were born out of the mining industry. We saw first-hand how the environment affected the IT infrastructure used to run mines and that what customers needed didn’t exist,” she told Australian Mining.

“So we came up with a solution literally from the edge, in a remote mining town in Western Australia.”

Self-contained data centres ready to leave the factory

Keeler said the concept of edge computing revolved around computing done near the source of the data – such as remote mine sites or satellite sites – instead of relying on the cloud.

This means there is little to no delay when it comes to sending and receiving data, providing fast, secure processing. For mines, this means automated technology can respond faster, improving efficiency.

Core to Zella DC’s edge computing process is its range of micro data centres, which replace the need for a traditional server room. These micro data centres are about the size of a refrigerator, are centrally managed and controlled and don’t require specialist installation or maintenance.

Keeler said the two the challenges that traditional server installations face is the time required and the associated costs.

“Server rooms can be expensive to run, as they need to be kept cool while operational,” she said. “This means you need to set up dedicated spaces for the technology and often need to pay for specialists to visit the site to install the equipment.

“Sending teams to mine sites is expensive, which often includes training, health and safety inductions and paying for the flights.”

The data centres are about the size of a refrigerator and are easily transported to site, avoiding the need for specialist installation

Zella DC’s micro data centres can be commissioned and installed within an hour and are set up with everything needed to get started as fast as possible.

The micro data centres are self-contained and IP65-rated, which means no air enters or leaves. As a result, the centre is only cooling itself and not the room around it and isn’t affected by nearby dust.

In addition, with a Zella Pro users can always match cooling and energy efficiencies with IT loads. By programming the units to shut down during non-productive times (like weekends and holidays) users can further lower their energy bills.

Durability is always a key requirement for the mining industry, and that’s why Zella has designed the micro data centres to work anywhere.

The fact they are self-contained means the micro data centres can even operate underground in high-dust environments. With heat, dust and cyclones among the key challenges mining companies face, the equipment was especially designed to handle them.

The Zella devices are also highly automated and can detect when they are needed – only working as hard as they must.

Once on-site, the finished data centres are easily installed, and they are robust enough to withstand often-harsh mining conditions

Keeler said feedback was critical to improving the design of the micro data centres, which is why robustness was a high priority.

“Our customers are often telling us about how impressed they are with its durability,” she said.

“We once had a customer say they were invincible. They had shipped it 700km across rough terrain, fully populated and set up from Perth. As it was just about to come off the truck, a major storm hit, which pushed it to the ground.

“The customer was concerned, but when they opened it up, they found that everything was working perfectly.”

Another customer sent their micro data centre from rural Australia to another one of their sites in Africa, and then eventually to South America, with no issues. Some of the prototypes are still operating on site, 11 years later with no problems having been detected.

Redundancy is a core part of this resiliency. Zella DC can offer dual systems to ensure that if something does go wrong with a particular component, the data centre can continue operating. The micro data centres are also designed to ensure they are very low maintenance.

Keeler said another key benefit of edge computing is increased security.

“Security is of paramount importance and has been our number-one focus,” she said.

“The mini data centres can run ‘off the grid’ to reduce the risk of cyberattacks and incorporate only one IP address. We use military-grade encryption and components to protect passwords and data as well.”

Zella also provides a remote access network which allows data centre infrastructure managers to see each data centre from one central location.

The company now operates across six continents servicing other industries, including defence, transport, manufacturing, and the government sector.

“Mini data centres are a scalable and standardised solution that help mines manage their data, easily and effectively,” Keeler said.

This feature appeared in the June issue of Australian Mining.

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