The digital city from the cloud

vom 25.08.2020

17.08.2020 I by Oliver Deuschle

Dynamic traffic management, Public WLAN and Smart Grid applications will be increasingly be part of the modern city. SMIGHT, a start-up from Karlsruhe, Germany, integrates IoT devices into urban infrastructures for the collection of usable real-time data to create a new quality of life in to create public space.

To manage the volume of incoming data, SMIGHT was looking for a cloud partner that could scale the necessary IT resources as needed and adapt them in real time. With the Smart City Index 2019, the digital association Bitkom for the first time examined all 81 German cities with at least 100,000 inhabitants with regard to their digitization. The results showed that digital technologies are used very differently in each case. According to the Smart City Index, every sixth German city currently offers
area-wide WLAN.

89 percent of cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants already have integrated public, free WLAN, and in 17 percent of cities it is also available outside the city center. Other categories in this survey included mobility, society, energy and the environment. However, modern smart city technologies not only require meaningful integration into existing urban structures, but also the subsequent processing of large amounts of data.

Since its foundation in 2014 as a corporate start-up of EnBW AG, SMIGHT has developed considerably and it has set itself the task of making cities and municipalities even more attractive through digital solutions. With a retrofit approach, the existing urban infrastructures, such as lanterns or Local network stations, time and cost saving upgrades. For the topics traffic and power network management, sensors are installed. In the area of public WLAN, the main focus is on Lantern poles router and antennas integrated. In this way SMIGHT has has developed into one of the leading IoT providers for small and medium-sized cities.

Exponential development of smart city applications

SMIGHT currently has more than 300 customers from the municipal sector, over 1,500 installed devices and around 455 million incoming data records. Every month, the number of data records adds up to about 20 to 25 million. This type of rapid and only partially predictable growth requires spontaneous and dynamic action and at the same time automated technology to be able to react to changing developments without delay. Currently, progress in the implementation of IoT and Smart City solutions in many German cities is still at a very different level

Further developments in the corresponding technologies and services are not always clearly foreseeable. In addition, the volume and volatility of the data always varies greatly depending on the location of the devices. If a system cannot react quickly enough to sudden fluctuations as a result, this may lead to considerable functional restrictions or in the in the worst case even to serious failures. If this happens, for example, with an automated traffic management system, serious consequences for citizens, the local authorities, but also for SMIGHT can result.

In order to guarantee these quick adjustments at any time without any problems, the open source software Docker in connection with a container-based architecture provides the necessary flexibility and dynamics of the SMIGHT platform. Docker and container can be used as cloud-native technologies independent of the environment and thus be transferred to different systems.

The problem in the past: High complexity and little flexibility

Beyond the modern platform architecture of SMIGHT, however, a correspondingly powerful, cloud-based IT operating platform is required for the high-performance provision of all smart services as well as for the reliable evaluation of all generated data. The problem SMIGHT faces when using its original cloud solution
the cloud infrastructure was clearly too complicated to handle, which made it almost unusable for employees without in-depth IT knowledge.

In addition to the complexity of configuring and activating the appropriate cloud infrastructure components, there was a lack of appropriately tailored, easily accessible support. For smaller companies and start-ups in particular, active consulting and close support of the cloud infrastructure components was essential.
Partners is particularly important and usually a central aspect in the selection process. "As a small company without specific cloud know-how, we not only want a stable, high-performance operating environment, but also close support and more provider flexibility in the implementation of our individual projects," says Ralf Rapude, responsible IT project manager at SMIGHT. Globally active cloud providers are usually too anonymous for this and, due to their obligation to standardize, can only respond to the individual needs of each customer to a limited extent. Close, personal collaboration is therefore hardly possible.

Focus on easy handling and customized data protection

Special cloud offers, which are tailored to small and medium-sized companies with their uncomplicated handling, can often be a good alternative to conventional hyperscalers. These include the Cologne-based IaaS and PaaS provider gridscale, with whom SMIGHT also works successfully. Compared to the previous solution, the complexity of IT operations has been significantly reduced.

Since the DSGVO came into force, the legal and data security of cloud-based infrastructures has also been a special feature for German companies, and is still frequently a source of uncertainty, especially among SMEs. Strict compliance with German data protection guidelines is therefore essential for the use of digital technologies that deal with the exploitation of data. Particularly in the area of smart city applications, large amounts of data are collected daily and used for subsequent evaluation and derivation of measures. Even though most of this data is not personal data, local authorities still place great emphasis on the secure use and storage of this data. Not least in order to strengthen confidence in the new technologies and to drive forward future developments. Cloud providers from abroad with a foreign legal culture and a different understanding of transparency obligations, protection of business secrets and liability for damages are usually not geared to the specific German legal provisions and practices in everyday business.

Securing sensor data transmission

IoT devices continuously collect a variety of data that should be immediately available for efficient use. Either measurements must be taken at regular intervals or data must be recorded and transmitted permanently. Due to the real-time nature of data collection and processing, the cloud infrastructure used must also be able to react and scale elastically depending on the "traffic volume".
It is also important that all data is transmitted reliably and without loss of information and subsequently stored securely. In the case of SMIGHT, the data transmission of the sensors is primarily done via mobile radio and the incoming data is stored directly via an interface at the database service MongoDB Atlas. It is well known, however, that the use of mobile radio is accompanied by a certain instability, which means that it cannot always be assumed that the data flow during transmission is smooth and free of interference. Here too, it is important that cloud resources react quickly and reliably to absorb possible fluctuations.

Digitization up to the complete IoT ecosystem

As Bitkom's Smart City Index shows, there is still considerable development potential in the expansion of urban infrastructures to modern IoT ecosystems. SMIGHT has already successfully asserted itself in this innovative environment and accompanies cities and municipalities on their way to digital transformation. To achieve this, the
companies themselves to new trends and customer requirements and the resulting challenges in everyday business life.

The original article in german can be found here.

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