Engines of exchange

A souvenir market in NoHo, NYC

Let’s talk about cities.

Cities are massive engines of exchange.

As a matter of fact, exchange lies so deep within the DNA of cities that you could describe them as physical manifestations of the human need for sharing.

In caricature, you could describe the inception of a city like this:

Imagine two roads intersecting in the wilderness. There are a few fields around with people raising grain and cattle, and the roads have been pretty busy lately — people have been riding hither and thither, stopping to chat and ask each other for directions once in a while. At some point, someone figured it might be a good idea to set up a little market tent there. Business went well and soon enough the need for a diner and a hotel became apparent, too. As time went by, the primitive “complex” grew, attracting increasingly more visitors with some liking it so much, they settled in the vicinity. They appreciated the fact that there was a good falafel place next door and that they could make some money helping the shopkeeper or watching their neighbors’ kids. Before long, hearing about the place in random conversations, people started deliberately coming over from far away in search of opportunities…

Although tremendously simplified, the principle evident from the above is still the engine of cities today: they thrive on exchange, on matching deficit to excess. Organizing themselves into clusters allows people and businesses to synergize and optimize their operations: one’s waste (e.g. free time or old furniture) is someone else’s treasure (help with the shop or a “look at that bright blue chair for only 5 bucks!” discovery).

Very cute — you might say — but this is a blog about data centers, so how is this relevant?

More than you might think. Although historically data centers have mostly stayed away from population centers, within the paradigm of edge networking, they find themselves needing to migrate closer. This can be perceived as a challenge, but what we are trying to illustrate is that, actually, it’s a pretty cool thing exactly because cities are such amazing engines of exchange. They allow for what is considered to be waste by one to be used for someone else’s benefit, making both parties happy.

Cradle-to-cradle!

So, if I were a data center moving into a new — urban — neighborhood, I would be pretty excited to get involved in the local scene! First of all, I would now be better connected and able to serve my customers faster. But there would also be so much more! By nature, I am warm and look funny. There is nothing I could use these qualities for when I lived in the country, because I was just another corrugated steel box struggling with keeping my heat rashes under control. But now I can make people happy by heating their houses (and getting paid for it, too) or, better yet, being a swimming pool or a botanical garden! If I am friendly enough, the humans around me (or rather their representatives in the City Hall) might even like me so much, they will let me grow bigger and mightier than I initially planned!

Fun storytelling aside, if edge networking is not a fluke but an actual trend (which it is), we’d better get ready for a lot of data infrastructure in cities. And coming into a city without using its core benefits — opportunities for multi-modal exchange, waste reduction and optimization — is short-sighted. It applies to people as much as it does to data centers.

In our next posts we will explore in more detail how versatile data centers can be and the benefits that implies. We will look at precedents of data center exhaust heat reuse, value that design generates for seemingly irrelevant structures, and much more.

Stay tuned!


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