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Why enterprise networks and smart cities are more similar than you might think

Thinking of smart cities in the context of existing networks could help simplify what can seem like overwhelming complexity, says SolarWinds’ head geek, Sascha Giese.

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According to specialist Internet of Things research firm IoT Analytics, smart city initiatives currently make up the largest segment of IoT projects, thanks to the hundreds of initiatives vendors and municipal governments are driving around the world.

 

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore has rolled out sensors and automated meters to improve the efficiency of its power grid, as well as to incrementally reduce the use of air conditioning in residential areas.

 

In the US, telecoms operator Verizon is working with city authorities in Sacramento, San Jose, Boston and elsewhere to roll out IoT connectivity for everything from better traffic management and integrated public transport, to energy-efficient street lighting and extending internet access to unconnected citizens. In the UK, the city of Cambridge’s “Smart Cambridge” initiative focuses on improving the city’s public transport.

 

A daunting challenge?

 

Smart cities consist of multiple, interconnected networks of remote sensors and endpoints – both fixed and mobile – that continually record and exchange data, which is then stored and analysed to identify underlying patterns and trends. But the sheer volume of this data, plus the complexity of the many interconnected networks involved, means that maintaining a smart city’s underlying systems might appear to be a daunting challenge for any network administrator.

 

The sheer volume of this data, plus the complexity of the many interconnected networks involved, means that maintaining a smart city’s underlying systems might appear to be a daunting challenge for any network administrator.

 

An interconnected smart city is certainly complex but we can also see it as a larger version of existing enterprise networks that connect offices in different locations, collect and analyse large volumes of data from different sources, and work closely with third-party partners and providers.

 

The important difference is a smart city’s broader scale and scope, with more network layers and endpoints involved.

 

Still, a smart city requires the same skills as managing and maintaining a conventional enterprise network.

 

Connectivity is crucial

 

Many smart city features and functions, such as traffic management systems and integrated public transport networks, operate in real-time. They’re coordinated by, and dynamically adapt to, variable circumstances such as vehicle congestion levels or the constantly changing locations and speeds of buses and trains.

 

These features depend on low-latency, two-way connectivity between sensors. If this connectivity breaks down – even for a few moments – the consequences can be damaging, whether it’s a missed connection for commuters on the way to work or sudden gridlock on the streets.

 

Smart cities and connected enterprises also both depend on ultra-secure, ultra-reliable, low-latency connectivity to link them to important storage, computing and analytics resources, as well as third-party applications and partners that are increasingly hosted in the cloud.

 

Dig deep for data

 

Like many large enterprises, a smart city generates vast quantities of data to store and analyse.

 

The level of complexity involved in the analysis of data surpasses human capability so machine learning and AI will be essential for the city administrators to extract and cross-reference insights from the different datasets involved.

 

Thorough, ongoing monitoring to identify and resolve – and perhaps even pre-empt – network outages is as mission-critical for a smart city.

 

Administrators can then use the findings to solve problems, automate processes, improve performance where necessary, and come up with new smart features and services.

 

Large-scale machine learning and AI requires considerable computing capability, which is increasingly cloud-hosted. It’s for this reason, and due to the importance of always-on connectivity between smart city sensors and connected devices, that accurate and constant monitoring of the smart city’s network performance and connectivity is critical.

 

Thorough, ongoing monitoring to identify and resolve – and perhaps even pre-empt – network outages is as mission-critical for a smart city as it is for a large connected enterprise.

 

Compliance: A level playing field?

 

Smart cities and connected enterprises share another important feature: they both run on data.

 

In today’s GDPR era, the responsibility for smart city and enterprise network administrators is the same.

 

In today’s GDPR era, the responsibility for smart city and enterprise network administrators is the same.

 

Admins have a responsibility to secure the increasing amount of data they collect and store, and to ensure that they, and their third-party partners, don’t misuse it.

 

In the same way that an enterprise respects the privacy of customers’ personal data, a smart city administrator must have a robust and transparent policy in place regarding any individual citizens’ data that it collects to use for features and services such as personal navigation or localised search.

 

Any policy must acknowledge the sensitivity of this data and obtain the individual’s permission to use it. The smart city must also be clear on how the data will be used and how long it will be stored.

 

Same skills, new challenge

 

The scale and complexity of a smart city’s interconnected networks and systems initially appears to be a daunting challenge for a network administrator. However, there are clear parallels to draw between enterprise networks and smart cities.

 

Smart city administrators can apply the same knowledge, expertise and tools used to manage enterprise networks. By prioritising real-time monitoring of network performance, secure connectivity, and data privacy and security, they can keep their smart city connected, secure and delivering benefits and new opportunities to its citizens on an ongoing basis.

 

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