By Sekete Patrick Maphopha, NetApp Africa CTO and Technology Evangelist
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 Internets of Things that will make them tick have attracted the gaze of another group of stakeholders: the IT and storage infrastructure industry.
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. There is no doubt that South African cities would benefit from pervasive high-speed connectivity, which is the catalyst of and foundation for the development of a smart city if it is coupled with innovative thinking, planning, leadership and investment.
In light of this, South Africa’s National Development Plan has identified all the components of a smart city as key developmental points for creating a globally competitive location and the country has kick started technology advances in support of smart innovation districts. For example, the City of Tshwane has partnered with Project Isizwe to provide wi-fi hotspots in public spaces, concentrating on low-income areas. In this project which has earned the title of the largest government-funded wi-fi project in Africa, 715 free wi-fi spots are already in place and the number is growing rapidly. The City of Cape Town is also making great strides towards this digital shift. In its ‘Smart Cape Project’, the Mother City will spend R185 million in 2015/16 for broadband infrastructure, and R23.7 million for the Digital Inclusion Project (Wi-Fi). Furthermore, the city will establish 300 Wi-Fi access points by the end of 2016 to unlock pervasive high-speed connectivity. With a foundation of high speed connectivity, businesses may transition to technologies like cloud as the initial steps towards becoming a smart city.
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.
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. Data management vendors such as NetApp contribute significantly by offering efficiency functionalities and improvements with things like compression, deduplication, integration of object and cloud repositories
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. NetApp’s Data Fabric allows seamless movement of data between different storage environments, removing the gravity of data and making it possible to bi-directionally move data between on-premises data centres and multiple clouds.
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.
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