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Data centres 'crucial' to making megacities thrive

The benefits of smart cities will only be realised when digital infrastructures can cope, says Neil Cresswell, VIRTUS Data Centres. What’s the role of next-generation data centres?

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It’s no secret that urban populations are growing enormously. In 1950, only New York and Tokyo had a population of over 10 million but in 2030, there will be over 40 megacities and as soon as 2020, the greater Shanghai area could even become a “giga-city” with 170 million inhabitants – more than double the population of Germany.

 

We know that these spaces deliver opportunities and challenges in equal measure. On the one hand, megacities are the ultimate epicentre of people, ideas, business innovation and growth. On the other hand, enormous and continued growth has put an unmanageable strain on some infrastructure, making resilience a number-one priority for municipalities and businesses alike.

 

The need for resilience is felt particularly strongly in smart city applications. We all know the benefits of smart city technology, such as automatic traffic control systems that respond to real-time data, reducing traffic and redirecting it if necessary, and smart streetlights which can adapt their brightness to local environmental conditions while gathering valuable data on traffic flow, air pollution and more.

 

However, these benefits will only be realised when digital infrastructures can cope. Physically linking dispersed machines and sensors so they can exchange information in real time is crucial.

 

If cities are to tap into the potential value of big data, the interconnections between people and applications, data, content, clouds and the network need to be seamless.

 

If cities are to tap into the potential value of big data, the interconnections between people and applications, data, content, clouds and the network need to be seamless.

 

It’s no exaggeration to say that as smart megacities grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens depends on the IT backbone that underpins them.

 

The role of the data centre

 

For many, the possibilities of smart cities are limited by issues of complexity and capacity just as much as finance. As the need for connectivity, data storage and computing power grows, it’s logical to assume that data centres will be at the heart of smart megacities.

 

But how do municipalities and the businesses which operate within them get their data centre strategy right to support these smart technologies? There is certainly no one-size-fits-all model but interesting solutions and approaches are already in place to address the most pressing challenges.

 

It’s not an easy task, though. Megacities will need to mix the old and the new and deal with legacy infrastructure as well as create new facilities. For some, this might mean that traditional "core" connectivity hubs will have to work alongside smaller data centres optimised for edge computing.

 

Providers may also need a workaround to cope with disparate local energy regulations and prices, and work out where data centre facilities can be optimally located.

 

Megacities will need to mix the old and the new and deal with legacy infrastructure as well as create new facilities.

 

Multi-tenant colocation facilities will continue to be important, providing the best in interconnectivity, flexibility and scalability. Indeed, the smart megacity environment puts the build vs buy argument to bed once and for all – in this world, the cost of building and operating an enterprise data centre is simply unmanageable.

 

Instead, third-party solutions offer a huge drop in upfront capital expenditure, combined with significant operational cost savings and potential improvements in both agility and scalability.

 

High-Performance Computing

 

High-Performance Computing (HPC) will also play a vital role in powering the smart megacity.

 

HPC has presented significant challenges in recent years, such as the scalability of computing performance for high velocity, high variety and high-volume big data, and deep learning with massive-scale datasets – but the benefits are becoming increasingly clear thanks to unparalleled processing power and speed.

 

Indeed, data centres across the world are now looking to adopt High-Density innovation strategies to further maximise the productivity, efficiency and computing power of the data centre.

 

High-Density Computing (HDC) also addresses an important cost element, which is a crucial concern as complex tech developments can see storage and power requirements spiral. HDC offers municipalities and businesses alike the ability to consolidate their IT infrastructure, reducing their data centre footprint and therefore their overall costs. The denser the deployment, the more financially efficient a deployment becomes.

 

However, upgrading legacy data centres for Ultra High-Density is a difficult task. Although the concept of High Density is straightforward, it involves a lot more than simply main-lining more electricity into the building.

Infrastructure

 

Before a data centre can support this requirement, it must have a robust and fit-for-purpose infrastructure in place. High-Density Computing requires not only increased quantities of power per cabinet, but also next-generation cooling capabilities, which are extremely difficult to retrofit.

 

Advanced cooling is essential as more energy consumption and harder-working servers naturally equate to more heat.

 

Technology innovations sit at the heart of the new world megacity. While there are incredible opportunities for smart megacities, we also know that population size may also be their downfall if the IT infrastructure is not there to support it.

 

While there are incredible opportunities for smart megacities, we also know that population size may also be their downfall if the IT infrastructure is not there to support it.

 

The key component to success is to ensure that the data centre is equipped to handle the rigorous demands that technology innovations place on them.

 

Governments and businesses alike must adopt a data-centre-first strategy when it comes to technical innovation if they are to provide an intelligent and scalable asset that enables choice and growth.

 

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