Can today’s data centres cope with tomorrow’s smart cities?

Smart cities have been a seductive mirage on the horizon for some time, but they’re finally solidifying into tangible reality. With annual investment poised to hit US$16 billion by 2020, a host of global technology firms are now laying the foundations for new, hyper-connected urban environments as they chase a burgeoning market worth US$1.5 trillion.

As we hurtle towards 9.7 billion connected things in the next decade, smart cities promise to solve some of the most urgent and pressing issues facing society. From more efficient power grids that can slash carbon emissions, to putting an end to traffic jams and travel chaos, fully realised smart cities will be almost as revolutionary as the first wave of urbanisation in the Industrial Revolution. But will our existing infrastructure be able to cope?

Data on the brain
While stylish ‘smart’ devices often dominate today’s headlines, the intelligence of any smart city will ultimately derive from connectivity. Information from billions of connected things must be collected, analysed and interpreted in near real-time to create an urban environment that can seamlessly react to new demands in an intelligent way. Consequently, data centres will be the real brains behind smart cities.

However, existing data centres will need to cope with a tsunami of information as smart cities become a reality: the 130 Exabytes now running across global networks will be dwarfed by the 40,000 Exabytes predicted by 2020. Facing this deluge, our current infrastructure won’t be enough. Smart city planners will need to invest in new technologies and approaches today if they’re to meet the demands of tomorrow.

A solid foundation
The next generation of data centres will need to focus on what’s been called their ABCs: analytics, bandwidth and content. The infrastructure supporting smart cities will need to analyse huge datasets in real-time to derive contextual insights, while transporting information between devices, sensors and data centres seamlessly. Meanwhile, this torrent of information also needs to be stored and managed smoothly and securely.

Today, we’re all used to accessing Anything-as-a-Service via the cloud on demand, but smart cities will require even greater scalability and flexibility. Big data analysis will need to happen seamlessly at the network edge, rather than in the rather cumbersome data silos we currently rely on – allowing information to be fed back into relevant services instantly.

Meanwhile, with data centres already responsible for more carbon emissions than airlines, a focus on renewable power sources and energy efficiency will also be imperative. Since a central driver for smart city investment is the potential to reduce carbon emissions, the data centres underpinning them cannot become ever more power-hungry. From free air cooling to reusing waste heat, the data centre and cloud industry is now pioneering innovation that will ensure smart cities have the smallest possible carbon footprint.

Finally, reliability will also be a crucial part of the puzzle. With many smart city capabilities likely to become essential to daily life – from basic utilities, to healthcare and governance - citizens will have zero tolerance for outages or infrastructure failures.

To discover more about how data centres are evolving to provide a solid foundation for tomorrow’s smart cities, register for Datacloud Europe 2016 where an outstanding line-up of industry luminaries will discuss their blueprints for our connected future.