It's time for us to think even more innovatively about how data centers are built and managed.
"With over half of the world's population living in cities, urban areas are going to be under pressure to improve the efficiency of their infrastructures," said Brian Johnson, ABB’s Global Data Center Leader. "The 'smartest' cities will find ways to seamlessly integrate services they provide, as well as support collaboration between institutions and commercial businesses, making them smart themselves."
"You could look at future smart cities as aggregations of data or, to adapt the famous quote from Sun Microsystem's John Gage, the city is the data center."
The long-term promise of this smart city vision is compelling. It offers an array of services that result in a virtuous cycle that provides new and ever-improving analytics that in turn improve services, wellbeing, and how we do business, work, rest and play:
- Cars that get safer every time one vehicle encounters a situation that can teach all of them how to avoid.
- Streetlights and restricted commuter lanes operated in real-time to maximize traffic flow and minimize pollution.
- Electricity, gas, and water resources distributed more sustainability because generation and allocation rely on machine learning based analytical insights of real-time usage as well as forecasted demand.
- Healthcare providers interacting easily and more frequently with people, diagnosing them earlier, allocating services more efficiently, and informing communities of illness hotspots, and
- Truly contactless and smart transactions, ranging from buying a cup of coffee to renewing a driver's license or other interaction with public entities, that get safer and more common over time.
While 5G will provide a bandwidth solution for facilitating and accessing such services on a day to day level, the configuration of data centers will be variable by city and need. We will likely see combinations of smaller or mini units in places at 'the edge' of cloud networks, such as on the tops of streetlamps where they can crunch traffic data without accessing the cloud for processing, and larger, more robust locations that handle larger analytics tasks.
The ability of these varied installations to work together will require a heightened level of AI, empowered by condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, to keep city-wide connectivity operating efficiently. Building it should challenge the market to innovate new solutions for data center size, configuration, and operational mandate.
But, while how data centers are built and managed will vary, ABB's experience suggests a set of qualities that'll be crucial to ensuring that innovation is effective and sustainable:
- Power management: The ever-evolving power mix will continue to diversify to meet ambitious sustainability goals. Currently, data centers use renewables through power purchase agreements, and the future may involve more direct methods like on-site renewable generation, or "power as a service" schemes for data centers to fully participate in local electrical grids. Using diverse power sources effectively requires a combination of metrics to determine things like when to use and how much to use as part of an overall power strategy; to this end, ABB has baked power usage and control features into even the most basic components, such as circuit breakers with pre-configured digital APIs (ABB's low voltage digital unit is called Ekip UP) in order to get users on the right path to realizing benefits and value.
- Monitoring and maintenance: Increasing demands on infrastructure will require newer strategies to replace old routines of swapping out components before they may or may not fail and/or waiting until they do fail before fixing them. Smart devices used will have asset health “baked in” to their design and will therefore lead to a predictive maintenance program that maximizes operational efficiency (think changing oil in your car when driving history warrants and not because some set number of months have passed). This approach also offsets both the expense of traveling for routine or scheduled maintenance and therefore the costs of actual inspection and unnecessary downtime.
- Backup: one of the most tangible benefits of digital connection is how quickly and efficiently both expansion and troubleshooting can occur when the connections between smart devices are made via fiber optic cable, which can reduce by 90% the number of connections vs analog copper, as well as self-identify when installed. This means that the data itself can be stored in cloud sites so there is a virtual, or "mirror" redundancy of a facility's operational infrastructure so that any disruption is unlikely to result in loss of data or analytics.
- Crisis management: In addition to automating things like traffic flow to give priority to first responders, imagine a smart building that can: direct people to the safest exit in event of a fire or other catastrophe; communicate with the fire truck while it’s on the way to safely position it for maximum effect; and perhaps tell it what the composition of the fire and toxicity of the smoke gases.
"In short, a smart city, when coupled with 5G and other connectivity solutions and a fully integrated network of data centers, can significantly elevate quality of life, public safety, and energy efficiency while conserving precious resources and contributing to a better tomorrow," said Johnson.