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Data centres: The power behind the megacity

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

Neil Cresswell, CEO, Virtus Data Centres outlines why the beating heart of the megacity is all in the infrastructure.

For all sorts of reasons such as the prospect of better employment and a brighter future, megacities are growing – growing in number, growing in geographic footprint, growing in population.

To put it into perspective, in 1950, only New York and Tokyo exceeded a population of 10 million. Today there are 33 cities that meet the definition of a megacity.

From London and Cairo, to Beijing and São Paulo and looking ahead to 2030, it is expected that there will be over 40 megacities.

Many researchers and academics laud megacities as the epicentre of people, ideas, business innovation and economic growth.

However, there is no doubt that rapid growth will put significant strain on infrastructure such as power distribution, sewage, water systems, transport, education, policing and welfare.

But how do we find the right balance between growth and opportunity and a sustainable quality of life? What does a city of the future have to look like in order to make life worth living in it?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, but the success of the megacity lies with the infrastructure, and more specifically, the IT that supports the city.

The need for resilience is felt particularly hard in smart city applications. We all know the benefits of smart city technology – automatic traffic control systems that respond to real-time data, reducing traffic and redirecting it if necessary.

Smart streetlights with the ability to adapt their brightness to local environmental conditions while gathering valuable data on things like traffic flow and air pollution – the list goes on.

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”, interconnections between people and applications, data, content, clouds and the network needs to be seamless.

Getting the data centre right

The extensive nature of big data needs something beyond a company or Government department’s in-house storage capabilities, and this presents significant opportunities for data centre providers to help Governments and businesses alike to deal with their big data capacity challenge.

Being able to store Internet of Things (IoT) generated data, and the ability to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information – very quickly – is vitally important, and will give huge competitive advantage to organisations and municipalities that do it well.

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Smart megacities will also have to mix the old and the new – dealing with legacy infrastructure as well as creating 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 work-around to cope with disparate local energy regulations and prices – and work out where data centre facilities can be optimally located.

As more and more applications are required to service immediate engagement – such as streaming, ecommerce and financial services – data centres must be placed correctly for this type of need too.

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 (HPC) will 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 increasingly clear with unparalleled processing power and speed.

Indeed, data centres across the world are now looking to adopt high density innovation strategies in order to further maximise productivity and efficiency, increase available power density and the physical footprint computing power of the data centre.

High Density Computing (HDC) addresses an important cost element – a crucial concern – as complex tech developments mean that 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.

The implications of not getting the infrastructure strategy right are potentially disastrous. Failures in the network could result in energy systems being shut down, companies unable to do business and huge transportation disruptions – as well as hospitals and schools suffering huge outages.

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.

Megacities are, for many, in equal part risk and reward. Whilst on one hand there are incredible opportunities for smart megacities, population size may be their downfall if the infrastructure is not in place to support it.

Indeed, the only way to improve the quality of life for tens of millions of people is to improve the technology that underpins smart city innovation.

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