Posted by: Chris | 29/06/2009

From Greener Data Centers to Smarter Cities

Last week I had the pleasure to travel to Berlin to attend the SmarterCities conference, but let me start with something local.  On Tuesday June 23,  we announced at the Zurich Lab a new kind of water-cooled supercomputer called Aquasar with ETH Zurich, a prized science and engineering university.  While you can read all about it online, I found this Technology Review article particularly well written. The one item that didn’t make it into the press release is that all of this wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have such a strong relationship with ETH.



You’ve seen my posts about the new nanoscience lab we are opening with them as well and while this is an entirely different project, it stems from a partnership that is quite unique in the world of business and academia.  Without this partnership innovations like Aquasar likely would not be realized.  Imagine if there were thousands of these types of relationships  what could be accomplished — it could lead to some amazing innovations.

Back to my trip to Berlin. My main take-aways from the conference, which was attended by about 500 decision makers from city administrators to politicians to utility managers are:

  • Implementing smarter projects, such as the congestion charging system in Stockholm, requires significant political will that is focused on the long term rather short term trying to win the next election. Some even claimed that autocratic systems like Singapore were better suited to implement smarter solutions that those based on real democracy. This thought sparked a lively debate
  • Data becomes a control point. Ireland, for example, has established an open access policy to data collected by public agencies. Open access will generate more value for society than if the data were offered up for sale by the government.
  • The world is interconnected already in social, economical, and technical dimensions to a system of systems. Understanding this “Uebersystem” though is a challenge that as of yet is not understood at all and will a very relevant topic of further research. Sam Palmisano, in fact, announced on the second day that he had discussed the topic of systemic risk with the German chancellor Angela Merkel that morning and had offered her that, if she were to provide the data from the German Bundesbank, we were ready to analyse it to make progress in understanding systemic risk – in the hopes of avoiding disasters in the future as the current financial crisis. Sounds like an ideal research project cut out for our Mathematics and Computational Science department 🙂


  1. While autocratic governments seem to be better at using their data, there is far more potential in democracies if the data is being made available in a useful format in an accessible manner. For instance, we have been encouraged by the availability of data in the US through, and while some of the data is in well understood formats, others use very basic forms that need to be interpreted before being used. We’ve been very interested in seeing this data being expressed in RDF with controlled vocabularies and some effort has been made to convert the available data. The next problem is that we don’t have the capacity to do large scale reasoning on masses of data, although often a simpler approach will also lead to good results. Lastly, the availability of such data does result in security and privacy concerns and making the data available as RDF just exasperates the problem. So, yes, there is a lot of work that computer science can do for us.

    Cheers, Morton

    • Morton,
      good to hear from you again. I agree with your points A lot of interesting topics to research.

  2. Thank you for posting the technology review article regarding the recovery of heat using water. This is a good summary. Our sister company is currently helping end users apply water cooled systems to their data centers. It would be interesting to discuss more about how you are doing energy recovery of the heat. I know much of it may be proprietary, but there may be mutual benefit for both you and us. Feel free to send me an email to discuss more.

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