Building Scalable, Sustainable, Smart+Connected Communities with Fog Computing
This week, Cisco is showcasing innovations across our Smart+Connected Communities portfolio at the Smart City World Expo Congress in Barcelona.
We’ve entered the digital age and smart cities worldwide are embracing technologies to streamline their operations and meet the growing expectations of their citizens. Today, citizens in the most vibrant cities are already seeing many initiatives designed to make urban services smarter, whether for transportation, parking, lighting, traffic and waste management, safety or law enforcement.
Urban services powered by the Internet will certainly enhance citizen quality of life, but developing this new generation of services requires integrating together many disparate technologies and billions of “things,” or devices. Today, it’s estimated that some 15 billion devices are connected, and this number is set to explode to 50 billion by 2020, particularly in and around urban centers. This complex assemblage will generate and transmit unimaginable amounts of data from all kinds of sensors, mobile devices and smart “things” to and through the Internet.
As the network of connected things grows, an increasingly significant volume of the data will be produced at its edge, where the data will also need to be processed, analyzed, and secured. As a result, new computer processing technologies must also be placed at the network edge to manage this new deluge in a distributed way across a citywide network to intelligently connect and inform people, processes, data and things. These technologies must deliver computing power at an unprecedented scale and help cities ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability.
What does that mean in practical terms?
Siloed Challenges/Siloed Solutions
Historically, cities have viewed and addressed their challenges in siloes, by industry or region, for instance. Until recently, the technological capability has not been available to manage and scale urban services holistically, digitally, across departments. To date, cities have implemented disparate solutions for street lighting or traffic monitoring and regulation, for example that operate in isolation without the benefit of awareness and data from other related industries and systems—without the economies of scale on equipment and integrated management opportunities. The siloed systems and data workflows make it difficult, if not impossible, to correlate and analyze the relevant information across city administrators. But that’s all changing.
As mentioned, the need for data processing, analysis, and security close to the connected “things” at the edge of the network is leading to an explosive growth of independent gateways, repeaters, and systems that are starting to pile up. These devices benefit from being positioned above the fray at the street level to avoid vandalism and provide a clear vantage point for data capture and transmission, so fastening them to lamp posts, poles or walls is advantageous and also allows them to receive power and city maintenance.
So what can cities do about it?
These challenges represent a huge opportunity for a paradigm shift. Smart cities must have an open, flexible and secure platform on which consolidate siloes and services at the edge and to connect intelligently with the cloud. This paradigm needs to be architected in a way that is easy to operate and dramatically simplifies the management of city services through scalable orchestration and proper automation. Such a platform must allow management of the different tenants within the smart city ecosystem in a uniform way. It should also have a suitable policy framework, letting specific stakeholders access data produced by other tenants, and analyze and extract value from the data. It should also support the installation of Apps where required (i.e., at the network edge, at the backhaul network or at the cloud), and seamlessly enable service and data composition as required.
Realizing a Vision in Barcelona with Fog Computing
This paradigm shift is well aligned with the vision and smart city initiatives driven by the Barcelona City Council. As a result, Cisco, together with the City of Barcelona and several partners, is conducting a proof of concept (PoC) on fog computing that aims to realize this vision at scale. Started in April of this year, the PoC focuses on the development and validation of a multi-vendor software platform. It is the outcome of the co-innovation efforts by the Barcelona City Council, three startups companies (Sensefields, PrismTech and PLAT.ONE), a technology partner (Schneider Electric), academia (Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Technical University of Catalonia and i2cat), and several teams within Cisco.
The main features of the fog platform developed in Barcelona include:
- Hardware and service consolidation thanks to multi-tenancy support and virtualization at the edge
- Openness by supporting not only device heterogeneity at the edge but also the deployment of homologated third-party Apps on the city platform
- Ease of use and unprecedented visibility of urban services based on management consolidation and uniform security architecture, including lifecycle management of data, applications, virtual switch/routers, fog nodes, fog services and the network.
- Data-centric approach with advanced policy management and analytics enabling actionable business intelligence across agencies and administrations.
- Natural leverage between fog and cloud since fog nodes are located close to the connected objects at the network edge, while the Fog Backend platform runs in the Cloud. The pilot demonstrates in the field a rich, integrated set of use-cases on the fog platform, including: event-based video, vehicular traffic management, power monitoring and control, sensor telemetry, and connectivity on demand at the edge. Two of these use-cases were proposed by the Barcelona City Council.
In summary, fog computing elevates IoT from point solutions to managed services at the edge, thus offering unprecedented visibility and uniform management of services from the edge to the cloud. The reference architecture developed in this pilot can dramatically reduce the complexity, cost (opex vs. capex) and time of deployment for operations of smart city solutions throughout the city.
The implementation of fog computing in smart cities is just beginning. Equally exciting use-cases for fog computing can be found in manufacturing, retail, healthcare, energy, transportation and across many other industries. So stay tuned for more developments and news around fog computing.