How do data centres help to run your smart home?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2020-05-12 07:36:46

The current global coronavirus lockdown may well be having a massive negative impact on the global economy, but with so many people forced to work from home, it could just help to accelerate the adoption of smart technologies in and around the places where we live. And behind every smart home, there’s an equally smart data centre.

While the current situation demands that, when it comes to making accurate or even educated predictions about any aspect of modern life, all bets are off, one imagines that, whatever becomes the new normal, the march of technology is inexorable. Indeed, one can easily envisage a scenario where the use of smart devices and systems accelerates rapidly as we all find new ways to live and work that are less dependent on location.

The realisation that work life can go on outside the office could just explode the smart home market over the next few years - a market that is already predicted to enjoy spectacular growth, thanks to a whole range of smart home applications. GlobalData predicts that the global smart home market will be worth $75 billion by 2025 (from $23 billion in 2018); predicts that this same market will be worth $158 billion by 2025. The numbers might be wildly different, and, post-COVID19, could need some revising, but there seems little doubt that more and more of us will be getting smarter and smarter at home.

Most obviously, the rise of the digital home assistant has been extraordinary. And many UK homes already have a smart meter installed. But that’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Back in 2014, Gartner predicted that, by 2022, each home could have more than 500 smart devices. Sounds crazy? Well, most homes already have multiple media and entertainment devices and systems, every household appliance (cookers, fridges, freezers, dishwashers etc.) has the capability to be smart, and then there are the heating and the lighting systems (with the boiler, every radiator and every light source having an embedded Internet of Things (IoT) sensor), and then there’s the video door bell and VR headsets.

And that’s before we consider the world of work which might, as mentioned earlier, be set to make a significant impact on many homes. More and more IT devices, Skype and videoconferencing, video phones…

And what about the larger, smart city/environment ecosystems with which all of our homes will interact? Transport and travel, energy usage and efficiency, water supply and usage, waste collection and sustainability objectives, digital healthcare and assisted living…

So, your digital assistant wakes you at 6.30 am, your bath is already run/your shower is ready to run hot immediately, the heating has come on, the smart oven is cooking the bacon and eggs you ‘pre-loaded’ last night (which it reminded you to do so), the outside weather prompts the digital assistant to make a suggestion of what you might want to wear today, tells you that the traffic is incredibly bad, so you’ll likely be more efficient working from your home office, a suggestion to which you agree, so messages are sent to your work colleagues, face to face meetings switched to videoconferences, all automatically set up for you. Oh, and your favourite local café is told to prepare and deliver your favourite lunchtime sandwich at 1.00pm. And that’s just the first 10 minutes of your day!!

Behind such a smart home/home office scenario lies a seriously large quantity of networks, data storage and computer power. Looking ahead, 5G promises to provide much of the required local connectivity – wireless has a major role to play alongside fixed, physical networks. And it will be the IoT sensors embedded in so many devices, which will be collecting data, and sending it over these networks to other local, regional or national locations, where the compute power will carry out the required data processing and analytics, before the data is stored in one or more locations. Once the raw, IoT-enabled data has been turned into intelligent data, which we might call information (!), decisions can be made – by humans, machines or some combination of the two – and this decision data can be sent where required – back to the original IoT sensors for local action, or onwards and upwards for more strategic planning and decision-making.

So, in the example above, the IoT traffic monitoring network (thousands of sensors reporting locally, regionally and nationally) decides that the traffic is so bad that it would make sense for you to stay at home. Once you’ve agreed, an application on your chosen work device – PC, tablet etc. – interrogates your day’s schedule, discovers your various planned meetings and then alerts the required colleagues of the change in type of meeting.

(Ah, and I forgot to mention, when you decide to work from home, your employer will be notified and they will monitor your productivity for the day, as compared to when you are in the office. Not necessarily to spy on you, more to see if your productivity is noticeably better at home. If it is, and so is that of your workmates when they work from home, then maybe the office building can be downsized significantly and more homeworking encouraged).

Behind all of this activity – the networks, the data analytics and storage, the compute, and many of the applications which run your smart home/smart home office – lies one or more data centres. Whether edge, regional or centralised facilities, these data centres host much of the vital data being generated, analysed and acted upon; host the storage devices on which this data sits; host the servers/compute power which carries out the data processing and analysis; and act as important connectivity hubs for the many, varied networks which transport the data to and from the myriad of IoT sensors and the millions and millions of connected devices.

What each data centre is required to do in the smart home ecosystem varies enormously, depending on its size, location and IT-hosting capability. There’s much talk of the edge and micro data centres right now, where IoT-generated data in particular, can be processed locally and, therefore, acted upon quickly. However, larger regional and centralised data centres have a massive role to play in terms of both the fast, immediate data handling tasks (a difference of a couple of milliseconds latency just isn’t an issue for the vast majority of applications) and the more strategic data collection, analysis and storage requirements.

For some, smart homes inspire nothing but excitement; for others, they evoke a mixture of 1984 and Brave New World! However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the sophistication they offer when it comes to addressing so many issues around the efficient use of both natural and human-made resources means that they are set to play an increasingly important role in all our lives. And behind every smart home, there’s an equally smart data centre.

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