Data from the United Nations and many other governmental organizations provides strong evidence that the world is facing unprecedented demographic and social change. Exponential population growth and increasing urbanization is causing significant demand on resources in nearly every area of life.
Top of mind for many experts is the rise of the megacity. As people flock towards urban conurbations, there are an increasing number of areas that meet the definition of a “megacity”: ten million citizens or more. Today’s 33 megacities include London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing and Sao Paulo - and by 2030, experts say that there will be eight more, including 12 in China and six in India.
These spaces deliver opportunities and challenges in equal measure. On one hand, megacities are the ultimate epicenter of people, ideas, business innovation and growth. On the other, enormous and continued growth has put unmanageable strain on infrastructure such as power distribution, sewage, water systems, transport, education, policing and welfare.
So where does success lie? We believe that the success of megacities is under the hood. For us, it’s no exaggeration to say that as megacities grow, whether they thrive and deliver a good quality of life to millions of citizens is down to the infrastructure, and more specifically, the IT that powers them.
Powering smart megacities
The “smart city” approach to infrastructure development integrates digital technology to make urban services more efficient, reduce resource consumption and help facilitate communication between governments and citizens. Implemented correctly, smart city tech can transform metropolises like Shanghai, Nairobi and Mexico City - and help them leverage their huge populations to power their economies.
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, the benefits of the smart city will only be realized when digital infrastructures can cope. Physically linking dispersed machines and sensors so they can exchange information in real time is crucial. 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.
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 huge outages.
Addressing the capacity challenge
Smart applications require lots of connectivity, data storage and computing power, so it’s logical to assume that data centers will be at the heart of the smart megacity. Indeed, Gartner predicts that by 2021 more than 90 percent of large data centers will revise their strategies due to major global socioeconomic trends - like the massive urbanization which has led to megacities.
When it comes to data center strategy, though, how do municipalities and the businesses which operate within them get it right? It’s not an easy ride - megacities will need 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 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.
Multi-tenant colocation facilities will continue to be important as we enter into the age of the smart 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 Internet of Things (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.
All this, and the critical nature of the data center, mean that Governments and businesses alike have experts - third party data center providers and tech specialists - to help. The build versus buy argument is, in this setting at least, over at last.
So, whilst on one hand we see incredible opportunities for smart megacities, 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 the 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.