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Why Data Centers are Crucial for Mega-cities

As mega-cities grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens is down to the IT that powers them.

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Neil Cresswell is CEO for VIRTUS Data Centres.

Today, megacities have become synonymous with economic growth. In both developing and developed countries, cities with populations of 10 million or more account for a significant portion of overall prosperity, and most analysts and policymakers think this trend is here to stay.

There are currently 33 urban areas that meet the definition of a “mega-city” from London, Cairo and Beijing to Sao Paulo; and as the urban population continues to increase, so will the number of cities joining the mega-city club. By 2030, experts say that there will be 41 mega-cities, including 12 in China and six in India.

These spaces will undoubtedly be the epicenter of people, ideas, business innovation and economic growth; this enormous and continued growth will also put strain on infrastructure such as power distribution, sewage, water systems, transport, education, policing and welfare. For many, this means that population growth is likely to be a significant liability.

The success of mega-cities can depend on the infrastructure. As they grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens is down to the IT that powers them.

The Rise of the Smart City

The rise of big data analytics and mobile technology is spurring development, transforming metropolises like Shanghai, Nairobi and Mexico City into so-called “smart cities” that can leverage their huge populations to power their economies. The ultimate goal for cities is to use data to bring intelligence to urban environments and to improve the quality of life for residents. Therefore, the backbone of the smart city is, of course, the smart network that underpins it.

The applications of a smart network are endless. Smart grids will modernize older electricity distribution management by leveraging intelligent computing, renewable energy storage, smart appliances and big data analytics. Smart lighting systems will enhance street lighting initiatives by providing actionable usage data to improve energy efficiency, reduce costs and keep communities safer. And automatic traffic control systems will respond to real-time information, reducing traffic and redirecting it if necessary.

However, while the benefits of the smart mega-city are extensive, they will only be realized when digital infrastructures can physically link dispersed machines and sensors so they can exchange information in real time. If they 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.

Addressing the Capacity Challenge

Smart applications require lots of connectivity, data storage and computing power and so it’s logical to assume that data centers will be at the heart of the smart megacity. Being able to store Internet-of-Things (IoT) generated data, with the ability to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information - very quickly - is vitally important, and will give huge competitive advantage to organizations and municipalities that do it well.

Smart cities will need 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 centers optimized for edge computing. Providers may also need a work-around to cope with disparate local energy regulations and prices - and work out where data center facilities can be optimally located. As more and more applications are required to service immediate engagement – such as streaming, ecommerce and financial services - data centers must be placed correctly for this type of need too.

Multi-tenant colocation facilities have been cornerstones of the Internet economy since the 1990s, and will continue to be important as we enter into the age of the smart, tech powered megacity environment, providing the best in interconnectivity, flexibility and scalability. High Performance Computing (HPC) will also likely power smart megacity applications, as it presents a compelling way to address the challenges presented by IoT and big data, and data center managers will continue to adopt high density innovation strategies in order to maximize productivity and efficiency, increase available power density and the physical footprint computing power of the data centers; vital in power heavy big data application.

On the flip side, the implications of not getting it 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 crippling outages. So smart cities are turning to decentralized energy-generation and storage systems, which will be able to minimize the impact of power outages or natural disasters.  Because of the critical nature of the data center, governments and businesses alike are turning to experts – third-party data center providers and tech specialists – to help.

While on one hand we see incredible opportunities for smart mega-cities, we also know that population size – currently the motor of the modern metropolis – may also be their downfall if the infrastructure is not there to support it.

Indeed, for megacities to become smart megacities, and to improve the quality of life for tens of millions of people, the onus is on the technology infrastructure that underpins and enables innovation. Get the data center strategy right and governments, companies and people have an intelligent and scalable asset that enables choice and growth. Get it wrong, and it becomes a fundamental constraint for innovation and change.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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