Cities around the world are turning to cutting-edge tech like AI, digital twins and 5G to become smarter and more citizen-centric. In Finland, Helsinki uses AI to detect brain disorders. Meanwhile in Switzerland, Zurich relies on digital twins for more efficient construction.

But such projects need one common denominator to become reality – data. “Fundamental to ‘becoming smart’ as a city is discovering how to use data to improve city services and quality of life for residents,” said Andrew Ginther, the former Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, in the United States.

Yee May Leong, Managing Director, South Asia, of Equinix shares how data centres play a pivotal role in digitalising cities, and how to balance that with sustainability to enrich our work, life and planet.

Data centres – the prerequisite for smart city projects

Data centres are the backbone of smart cities. They help to store and process the massive amounts of data needed to power smart nation projects such as autonomous vehicles and digital healthcare, Leong says.

For instance, data centres can enable genomics research. “Genomics is the key to uncovering a lot of research and development for diseases that can provide better healthcare,” Leong says. It can, for instance, identify how illnesses affect different groups of people depending on their ethnicity, GovInsider previously reported.

But genomics research requires terabytes upon terabytes of data – “things which would not be possible for the human brain to even consume”, says Leong. This is where interconnected data centres like Equinix’s come in.

Equinix data centres host multiple sources of data across different organisations on a single platform. This means that organisations are able to access their data easily from anywhere in the world. Data sharing then becomes much quicker and more secure, since it doesn’t have to go through the internet, Leong explains.

Such highly-connected digital infrastructures allow genomics research to happen more quickly, as all the data it draws from is on one single platform rather than from different locations.

Digital communication too benefits when data is located close together. For instance, Equinix empowered communications tech firm Zoom to connect directly with its customers via Platform Equinix. This helped them provide more secure remote communications and better performance since they are not dependent on individual internet service providers.

“That’s because it’s all sitting on Platform Equinix and in proximity,” she explains. No matter where in the world someone is making a call from, the data is all travelling and interacting within one facility.

A true digital infrastructure like Platform Equinix, provides governments and organisations the optionality to connect with multiple cloud providers, network services provides, partners, and an ecosystem of enterprises who are on the platform. This gives organisations the flexibility to manage and work on hybrid multicloud and on-premises environments if they wish.

This connectivity helps public and private organisations alike work with the service providers that can best help them scale and adapt smart city projects based on their requirements, ensuring continued success, Leong shares.

How data centres encourage a sustainable digital economy

Despite its perks, data centres have often come under fire for consuming massive amounts of energy and contributing to carbon emissions. Worldwide, it is estimated that data centres alone account for 2 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to Climate Neutral Group.

But while data centres are one of the key focus right now when people discuss carbon emissions, they bring many other benefits to the table as well, Leong highlights.

For instance, bringing data closer to where it is produced, consumed and shared can reduce the time taken to transmit data, minimising energy consumption, she explains.

On the contrary, if data is dispersed around multiple different data centres, data transmission from place to place will take much longer, which increases power consumption, Leong says.

Changing mindsets and behaviour

While Equinix is doing its part to promote sustainability and help countries and organisations pursue growth, Leong believes that people’s perceptions and behaviour towards sustainability still need to change.

For instance, organisations can relook at the amount of data they are storing and what type of data is required. “We need to be very selective with the data that is truly enabling the digital economy,” Leong says.

“Planet Earth is our home, and we need to collectively come together to make it better,” Leong highlights. A lot of human habit changes need to happen. Organisations need to consider the steps they can take to ensure the Earth is protected for our future generations, she adds.

One way Equinix encourages social sustainability is by raising awareness through a community programme, called Impact Month, where the company encourages its employees to volunteer time and raise funds every October. In 2021, this programme saw employees worldwide putting in 16,556 service hours and donating US$2,042,959 across hundreds of causes, according to its website.

Besides its employees, Equinix also advocates for transparent reporting to customers of its sustainability efforts through its Green Power Report. This report is distributed to its customers and includes information on the energy consumption, renewable energy use, as well as carbon footprint of their digital infrastructure.

This helps Equinix’s customers re-evaluate their energy use and find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, greening their digital supply chain. Many other tech firms such as Salesforce and ServiceNow have benefitted from this report, which helped in their sustainability reporting efforts.

“Sustainability, for us, is a way of life,” Leong shares. “It’s a journey we started, and we will continue.”

Economic growth and digitalisation are undoubtedly important, but conserving the Earth is paramount for our future. Equinix is looking to balance the two by taking conscientious steps to go green, while still helping organisations in their digitalisation journey.