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Why HPC Matters: Smart Cities

How Big Data and HPC are revolutionizing urban areas

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Dell EMC

Driven by new digital technologies, cities around the world are getting smarter in their approaches to managing municipal services and interacting with citizens.  And that’s a good thing, given projections that show we could add 2.5 billion people to the world’s already-burgeoning urban populations by 2050.[1] To keep our urban areas livable, workable and sustainable — three goals of the globally-focused Smart Cities Council — all cities need to become smart cities.[2]

Smart cities leverage data from connected devices and powerful analytics tools to keep traffic flowing, protect public safety, reduce pollution, maintain public assets and improve the delivery of city services. Use cases for smart city technologies range from tracking the condition of roads and bridges and detecting water levels in flood-prone areas to optimizing the usage of street lights and giving citizens around-the-clock access to city services via mobile devices.

Looking for a parking spot in the heart of the city? Just check your city’s smart parking app to gain a real-time view of open spots near you. While we’re not quite there in most municipalities, that is clearly the wave of the not-too-distant future for the smart city.

Use cases like those highlighted here generate enormous amounts of data from sensors and connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices spread throughout the city. In many cases, this data must be analyzed in a timely manner, if not instantaneously, and this is where high performance computing systems enter the smart city picture.

Take the case of Fujian University of Technology in China. For its Smart City initiative, the university created a high-performance cloud platform to mine and analyze real-time data on local road usage and deliver insights that enable residents to travel more efficiently through reduced traffic congestion. [3] The cloud platform , based on Dell EMC™ PowerEdge™ servers with Intel® Xeon® processors and VMware® vCloud® Suite, is designed to process massive amounts of data.

“Smart cities require data, and lots of it,” notes a blog by Professor Zou Fumin, vice dean of the College of Information Science and Engineering at Fujian University of Technology. “In our case, we wanted to give local citizens real-time updates on traffic conditions for them to make better travel choices. We also wanted to obtain a detailed picture of road usage in Fujian. The problem was that our existing IT infrastructure couldn’t process the large quantities of data coming into our computer center from traffic cameras and vehicle-based sensors. We needed a big data solution.”[4]

Enhancing the Quality of City Life through HPC  

The importance of HPC to the smart city was on stage — literally — at the SC17 supercomputing show in Denver, where the opening plenary session was titled, “The Era of Smart Cities — Reimagining Urban Life with HPC.”

“HPC is already playing a key role in helping cities pursue objectives of societal safety, efficient use of resources, and an overall better quality of life,” the SC17 communications team explained in announcing the plenary. “Intelligent devices enabled with HPC ‘at the edge’ have potential to optimize energy generation and delivery, emergency response or the flow of goods and services, and to allow urban infrastructures to adapt autonomously to changes and events, such as severe storms or traffic congestion. Smart city technology can even improve food safety inspections and help identify children most at risk for lead poisoning. HPC is supporting the creation of breakthrough computational models to make all of this possible.”[5]

In the years ahead, Smart Cities are going to be driven by ever-larger HPC engines, according to experts in the field who spoke at SC17. A report by HPC Wire noted that one of those experts, Charlie Cattlett, director of the urban center for computation and data at Argonne National Laboratory, told an audience that the scale of data involved in complex, long-term modeling will require extremely powerful supercomputers, including next-generation exascale systems, to drive long-range forecasting for cities.[6]

Ultimately, the smart city movement is leading us to urban communities that can better manage user expectations, optimize the allocation of limited resources, provide a safer and more sustainable environment, foster innovation and give residents a personalized, always-on end-user experience. But to get there, we need more than connected devices that generate constant streams of data. We need HPC systems to help us analyze all that data at lightning-fast speeds. And that’s why HPC matters in the smart city.

For a closer look at Fujian University of Technology’s smart city initiative, read Professor Zou Fumin’s blog “The future of transportation? I’m ready.

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Making a difference with HPC

High performance computing touches virtually every aspect of our lives. HPC is making weather forecasts more accurate, cancer therapies more precise, fraud protection more foolproof and products more efficient. In this series of articles, we explore these and other use cases that capitalize on HPC and its convergence with data analytics to illustrate why HPC matters to all of us.

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[1] United Nations, “World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas,” July 10, 2014.

[2] Smart Cities Council, “Working to makes cities more livable, workable and sustainable.”

[3] Dell news release, “Customers Maximize Business Potential, Accelerate Innovation with Dell PowerEdge Servers,” April 1, 2016.

[4] Dell case study by Professor Zou Fumin, “The future of transportation? I’m ready,” October 28, 2015.

[5] SC17, “Supercomputing Opening Plenary Announced: The Era of Smart Cities - Reimagining Urban Life with HPC,” November 13, 2017.

[6] HPC Wire, “How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter,” November 17, 2017.