What smart cities mean for the Data Centre in 2022/23
Fri 22 Apr 2022
As businesses and governments continue to explore the different applications of IoT and connected, responsive networks, they are beginning to realise the enormous potential of smart cities. However, the success of the smart city initiative is tied closely to the development of a flexible, agile, future-focused data centre infrastructure.
What is a smart city?
A smart city isn’t a futuristic, glass-and-concrete vision from a sci-fi movie. Smart city solutions are all around us today: a network of information and communications technology that uses data to glean insights about our urban environments. Those insights can then be applied to answer growing concerns and issues with urbanization and sustainable development.
“A city is smart if it includes a diversity of economic, transport and housing opportunities that are resilient and sustainable.”
Examples of smart city applications include:
- Smart traffic management, which collects data on traffic flows and congestion to optimise traffic lights and signals
- Wearable technology that allows people to have physical therapy in their homes, while being guided and monitored by a remote expert
- Smart appliances reduce energy consumption by limiting appliance intake during inactive periods
- Smart street lights can be optimised to react to environmental changes to reduce electricity needs
- Smart parking can help drivers find an available space and pay for parking using a smartphone
How will this affect the data centre?
Hyperscale data centres – those that can count 5,000 servers or 10,000 square feet – have been increasing in number and size, offering the benefits of efficiency and centralisation of services. Due to their footprint and energy usage, hyperscale data centres are generally located outside of urban areas.
Smart city functionality, though, is increasingly tied to systems that respond in real time to fluctuations in environmental data. This means that smart cities need low latency data transmission, which is generally dependent on physical proximity: closeness between the data collection device and the data centre. This may result in an increase in small, urban-centred, distributed data centre systems.
Requirements of the urban edge
Fibre technology may be a good solution to meet the dual challenges of bandwidth and latency. Developments in smart city technology, like the V2X (vehicle-to-everything) technology in Singapore, can benefit from fibre-loaded edge sites can achieve data transmission speeds of 400Gb/s and higher.
Automated Infrastructure Management (AIM)
A distributed data centre network of small, edge facilities will require automation and remote monitoring to work properly – particularly considering issues of access and confined space safety. An automated system that can react with agility to changes in environmental data will provide robust data centre services to improve operations and minimise service issues. It is also critical to have automated security monitoring to ensure physical security of data.
Cable at the edge must be optimised to protect critical copper and fibre cords, while still allowing access in case of maintenance or replacement. Cable management at the edge involves creative design, use of horizontal and vertical space solutions, and cable tray systems (both overhead and underfloor).
Intelligent Power Distribution
Systems that react in real time to power distribution in the data centre – intelligent PDUs – provide a number of benefits to edge data centres. They improve reliability and uptime, help to manage environmental goals, and reduce resource consumption.
Although edge data centre systems have been employed worldwide, there has been little agreement on standardisation or best practices. This is especially apparent around cooling systems, where it seems that every owner/operator has a different opinion. Some of the leading options include direct expansion (DX), chilled water, free cooling, and high-density liquid cooling.
Each of these systems has its own pros and cons in urban edge data centres. Direct expansion (DX) is the most commonly used, and can range in size and functionality from a familiar home A/C unit to a high-end, CRAC unit. This range of functions means that DX can be used in almost any data centre, but is large, lacks scalability, and has a low PUE (power usage effectiveness).
Chilled water cooling offers scalability and a dramatically improved PUE. Moreover, since chilled water solutions are deployed in a distributed manner, they can easily be replaced or scaled for growth as the data centre grows and changes. However, chilled water distributed systems require higher up-front investment, which can be difficult to justify during the construction phase.
Investment in smart cities is growing worldwide. According to information from Statista, “Technology spending on smart city initiatives worldwide is forecast to more than double between 2018 and 2023, increasing from 81 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 to 189.5 billion in 2023.”
As smart city functionality continues to grow, and new applications are discovered, more stress will be put on urban data centres and the electricity grids they use. To ensure that data centres meet the needs of smart cities, it is important that owners and operators plan for this need, improving flexibility, sustainability, and speed.