Megacities in the digital age - and how the data centre is the key to their survival

Experts agree that megacities - cities with populations of ten million or more - present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. By Neil Cresswell, CEO for VIRTUS Data Centres.

On one hand, these urban sprawls have become synonymous with economic growth: agglomerations of people, opportunity and innovation. On the other, continued population growth has put strain on fundamental infrastructure such as power systems, water supply, transport, education and welfare.


Chemical explosions, dangerous levels of air pollution, construction collapses: we know that when infrastructure fails, the implications can be catastrophic. Cases like these show that the sheer size of the megacity can prove detrimental to growth, as well as to the welfare of citizens.


So, what does success look like? How can cities harness the potential of massive urbanisation without compromising safety and welfare?


For many, a ramp up in infrastructure spending is needed. Local government housing subsidies, tax breaks for businesses and overhauled transport systems have all been deployed in attempt to improve conditions. But, the real heart of the megacity is less obvious - and lies in the IT network that powers it.


Smart tech for better lives


The most talked about opportunity for megacities is in smart city technology; where multiple types of electronic data collection is used to manage assets and resources more efficiently.


Effectively, smart city applications are those that leverage the population of an urban area for the good - gathering, analysing and deploying data from the way citizens live in order to help them make better decisions and to improve their quality of life.


Perhaps the most often cited application is in transport - where real time information is used to direct, divert and manage traffic – which shows that the adoption of smart applications can provide a plethora of benefits for residents, from public safety to better healthcare to more efficient and effective energy use. In fact, according to a report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), smart city applications can improve quality of life by 10 to 30 percent for residents.


Crucially, the smart city can only operate effectively if the smart network that underpins it is technologically significant and able to deal with the huge capacity demands of big data applications.

The data centre as make or break for the megacity

What’s really important in this brave new world is being able to handle, and use, vast amounts of data. It’s important to remember that this data isn’t standard, transactional, data as we know it. The data to power smart cities is both transactional and unstructured, publicly available and privately collected, and it’s the importance of both big data (large data sets used to spot patterns or trends) and fast data (data which is used for immediate decision making) which is driving a new architecture for data centres.

The importance of having the technical infrastructure in place to store this increase (and divergence) in data and a suitable, abundant, reliable power supply to keep the everything working means that the idea of the huge, monolithic data centre is rapidly becoming outdated. Many are turning to colocation for the flexibility and scalability to cope with burgeoning but unpredictable demands. Others are looking to core connectivity hubs which will alongside smaller data centres optimised for Edge computing. Indeed, a rise in micro data centres will help deploy infrastructure for 5G wireless connectivity and low-latency applications, and will have to work seamlessly alongside other facilities.

In this brave new world, businesses will have to mix the old with the new; using legacy equipment while introducing new and optimised facilities and traversing unpredictable and differently regulated energy provisions.

High Performance Computing (HPC) will remain important in powering smart megacity applications, offering a compelling way to address the challenges presented by Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, and data centre managers will continue to adopt High Density innovation strategies in order to maximise productivity and efficiency, increase available power density and the physical footprint computing of the data centres.

Ultimately, all of this is driving data centre automation: large scale cloud providers are investing heavily in automation and intelligence for managing their infrastructures as any manual management simply becomes cost-prohibitive. This huge scale does away with the build vs. buy argument once and for all. It just isn’t sustainable for businesses or governments to manage and sustain their own environments, and it's here where data centre specialists have a crucial opportunity to capitalise on a real and pressing need.


The world’s population is continually growing, and urbanisation is expected to add another 2.5 billion people to cities over the next three decades. Whilst on one hand we see incredible opportunities for residents of megacities, we also know that population size may also be their downfall, if the infrastructure is not there to support them.

It’s logical to assume that data centres will be at the heart (and ultimately responsible for the success) of the smart megacity. In the world of the megacity, connectivity, it seems is ultimately king - and data centre technology is the kingmaker.


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