City 2.0

Technologies such as WiMax, smart grids and social networks will transform tomorrow's urban centers.

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Sustainable Data Centers

Sustainability is a key part of the city of the future. The idea is that a highly efficient, well-monitored green data center could allow a city to realize major energy savings. The vision also calls for such data centers to be used for most city services, not just computing. For example, a single city data center could support government services and monitor automobile traffic. Today, those functions are difficult to consolidate.

Enderle says most city services aren't connected to one another today, but some individual components, such as applications that monitor electricity usage in government buildings, have sensors that could be used to create more integrated systems. At some point in the next 10 years, cities will decide that 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.

Thomson Reuters offers a model for such a sustainable system. The news and information-gathering service operates multiple data centers that occupy a total 100,000 square feet of space for its Westlaw online legal research service in Eagan, Minn. Rick King, the company's global head of technology and operations, has designed those data centers so that they have close ties to the local utility, the Dakota Electric Association.

Thomson Reuters has about 900 batteries in one data center and four diesel generators in another, which it uses as a backup for power delivered by the local utility. It also has two massive diesel fuel tanks. Today, 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 offers other examples of how future cities could operate. Thomson Reuters monitors 15,000 IT assets, such as servers and storage arrays, in real time, and the power usage is controlled automatically -- when the diesel generators are needed, they start up. Extending this model to a city could mean that power companies are highly connected and that a smart grid would allow homeowners to monitor their own use at the individual appliance level, enabling them to adjust usage patterns.

A highly connected city with smart grids, widely available wireless access and a sustainable data center is well within reach. Over the next 20 years, cities in the U.S. and abroad will likely take steps toward that goal, building the infrastructure with a view toward better connectivity and better living.

Brandon, a regular contributor to Computerworld.com, worked as an IT manager for 10 years and has been a tech journalist for another 10.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first appeared on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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