City 2.0: Using tech building blocks in tomorrow's urban centers

It's closer than you may think and is mostly a matter of connecting all the pieces

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Tim Sweeney, a product manager at Intel, says the prospects of WiMax for cities are high because it means greater bandwidth for city services.

"Wi-Fi was never intended to support a wide area; it is really for inside buildings," he says. Sweeney gave a future city scenario where cars report their fuel tank levels over WiMax, gas stations bid on the cost of fuel, and an electric car communicates with a smart grid about its energy usage -- whether an alternative route would save on power used.

Sustainable data center

Sustainability is a key part of future cities. The idea is that a highly efficient, well-monitored and "green" data center could allow a city to realize major energy-savings benefits. It would also lead to being able to use data centers for most city services, not just for computing. For example, a single city data center could provide services for government and monitor automobile traffic in city streets. Today, these functions are wildly disparate and difficult to consolidate.

According to Enderle, most city services are not connected to each other today, but some individual components such as electrical usage in government buildings already have the sensors required for monitoring city services. At some point in the next 10 years, cities will need to decide when patching an aging infrastructure no longer makes sense and will instead start using more modern technology, Enderle says. In a sustainable data center model, city services could be part of a vast "network of networks" that monitors real-time power, water, wireless and data usage for all citizens.

One example of how this sustainability could be tied to city services is at Thomson Reuters, a news and information gathering service that operates 100,000 square feet of multiple data centers for the global legal businesses of Thomson Reuters, including Westlaw databases, in Eagan, Minn. Rick King, the global head of technology and operations, has designed operations with close ties to the local Dakota Electric utility.

Data center batteries
Row upon row of batteries at the Thomson Reuters data centers provide power back-up and can run the data center for about 15 minutes.

There are more than 900 batteries, four diesel generators and two fuel tanks in each of the three data centers on the Eagan campus. The company uses the batteries for short bursts (about 15 minutes) of backup power and can use its generators for a day or two as needed, allowing the local utility to sell the unused power.

Enterprise IT today serves as an excellent example of how future cities could operate. Thomson Reuters monitors 15,000 IT assets such as servers and storage arrays in real time in a central operations center, and the power usage is controlled automatically -- when the diesel generators are needed, they start up on their own. Extending this model to a city could mean that power companies are highly connected, and home owners could even see their own usage at the individual appliance level to be able to adjust usage patterns, tying back into the notion of the previously mentioned smart grid.

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