All-Flash data centres will power smart cities

Smart cities have been viewed by sceptics as a futuristic concept with little evidence to suggest their coming to reality. However, smart cities, whether built from the ground up or the top down are coming. Therefore, while town planners and OEMs are addressing challenges in terms of liability, insurance, connectivity and hardware, smart cities and the Internet of Things that will make them tick have attracted the gaze of another group of stakeholders: the IT and storage infrastructure industry.

Smart cities are here

Gartner has predicted that 1.6 billion ‘things’ will be connected to the larger smart city infrastructure by the end of this year. Ever increasing numbers of towns and cities are implementing smart transport networks. They are allowing connected cars on their streets, while bins with trash monitoring sensors are no longer an alien concept. Processor giant Intel is talking about a future where everything is smart and connected. With the backing of key industry stakeholders all of these connected objects, right down to the bin, are creating, storing, accessing and reacting to their environment, creating data at an incredible pace.

Every inch of the smart city is about speed and understanding. Dealing with the tremendous volume and velocity of the data produced in real-time by every process from changing traffic lights to domestic smart meters is one issue – and a major undertaking. However, the concept of smart city is not just that everything is connected and churning out data. It has to be smart – a living, breathing entity that gathers and acts on intelligence and insight as part of an ongoing cycle.

Therefore, this data not only needs to be stored, but it needs to be accessed, organised and used. Real-time data analytics and asset-intelligence solutions will have their day with the age of smart cities. It is crucial that the data produced is used to identify trends and anomalies in the everyday workings of the smart city to stimulate the innovation of new solutions that improve the smart citizens’ experience.

A new era of decision making

For example, during the 2012 Olympics, the London transport system Transport for London (TfL) needed to support 18 million journeys due to the influx of spectators from all over the world. By using data analytics to predict journeys to and from events based on peak usage times, TfL ensured that the network ran smoothly by and large throughout the entire event. As well as managing the supply of trains around the predicted flow and volume of traffic from certain events, TfL was able to share its insights with passengers and invested in online itinerary services, making it easier for visitors to manage their journey and have a positive experience. It is uses of data such as this that will underpin the true smartness of smart cities. This is the new era of decision making based on forecasting and modelling, driven by smart technology.

Data city centres

To deal with the day-to-day and long-term data demands of a smart city, massive amounts of data need to be stored cheaply, locally and with rapid access. This requires a unique approach to where data lives and is operated. One of the challenges smart cities poses for IT and storage infrastructure decision makers is an environmental one. There is a tendency to assume that dramatic increases in data volume will be accompanied by a huge upsurge in data centre footprint, which from a power usage and preservation perspective is undesirable.

The counter balance to this is that we are seeing huge reductions in the footprint of drives required to store data. Toshiba has predicted that by 2020, hard drives will be capable of supporting in the region of 40TB. However, the real news here is that in the same prediction Toshiba said SSDs will be 128TB in the same timeframe. And today’s high capacity SSDs draw one tenth of the power of the equivalent HDD at 6 per cent of the footprint. Due to Flash memory, SSDs hold the key to the data centre that will power the smart city.

An all-Flash data centre meets the requirements of a smart city by providing the totally consistent, always-on performance needed to deal with inherently peak requirements (the transport infrastructure at rush hour, for example). As well as this, with SSDs outpacing Moore’s Law in terms of gigabytes per inch, rather than colossal data centres sprouting up all over the country, the all-Flash data centre paves the way for much needed stability in terms of power requirements and footprint.

When one considers the diverse nature of the data produced by an entire city, it is clear that a sophisticated and flexible storage infrastructure will be required. A significant percentage of the data produced by smart cities will be useless, and, therefore, to protect the mission-critical data sets this huge volume of historical data will need to be easily archived or destroyed. Furthermore, data needs to be accessed, moved around and analysed quickly as well as stored on mass.

To be truly smart, smart cities need a smart, sophisticated infrastructure that makes data easy to manage and use as an insightful asset. Furthermore, as smart cities scale, all-Flash data centres will provide a solution that befits the data and performance-intensive nature of a smart city, while protecting against ungainly footprint and power usage needs.

Laurence James, NEMEA Products, Alliances and Solutions Manager, NetApp