Cloud computing: An important component of the physical infrastructure for smart cities

By Victor M. Larios

Today half of the world’s population is living in urban areas, and cities are growing their infrastructures and services to keep up. Traditionally city governments have different departments to oversee the metropolitan services for citizens; however, departments are not fully communicating their plans and actions, utilizing their services as independent entities. As a city grows, duplicated efforts and waste of resources emerge. In developing a smart city infrastructure, it is necessary to think of cities as complex systems with departments as subsystems sharing all resources and assets.

For example, a typical department of transportation models traffic patterns in order to plan new roads or arrange streets for efficient mobility. In a systemic approach streets in the city are a shared resource – the education department adds traffic at peak times according to school schedules; the sanitation department influences traffic with low speed vehicles collecting garbage; and the environmental department estimates degrees of pollution via the density of traffic identified by the transportation department. Also, the health department could use such information, as well as weather conditions, to increase its pharmaceutical stock in relation to pollution numbers or anticipated storms or natural disasters.

In this scope, it’s fundamental for cities in a smartification process to consolidate their infrastructure according to the basic principles of services design such as modularity, exportability, interoperability, extensibility, and scalability.

Cloud computing technologies offer a good solution for cities to consolidate their physical infrastructure. Cloud technologies provide different levels of services such as IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service) and SaaS (software as a service) for efficiency, quality of service on demand and green infrastructure.

In 2013 the IEEE launched a new and ambitious educational program for the development of Smart Cities with the goal of identifying and sharing best practices to support cities in their smartification process. Guadalajara, Mexico was the first city selected for this IEEE initiative due in part to the city government’s decision to renew the downtown and build a Digital Creative City (Guadalajara Ciudad Creativa Digital or GCCD).  The master plan, designed by Prof. Carlo Ratti and Prof. Dennis Frenchman from MIT and several consultancy groups, proposed a master plan to transform the city without loosing its traditions, identity, and architecture.

During the kickoff workshop in Guadalajara in October 2013 local IEEE volunteers defined a strategy for six working groups to tackle different layers of the Smart City: 1) Physical Infrastructure, 2) Internet of Things, 3) Open Data Framework, 4) Analytics and Visualization, 5) Metrics for Smart Cities, and 6) Education for Smart Cities.

According to the GCCD original master plan, the city environment would have a device sensor network and a set of cloud services.  Infrastructure requirements include an optical fiber backbone network and data center facilities for urban informatics. In order to innovate interactions of citizens with information and services, the urban informatics are based on private cloud services supported by the concept of the Urban Operating System (UOS). The UOS is a complex event system manager based on data analytics from the sensor network that optimizes and forecasts the use of city resources and services by the citizens.

Cloud computing technologies offer a good solution for cities to consolidate their physical infrastructure

One of the first proposals is private cloud architecture for the city of Guadalajara. A roadmap in cloud technologies development envisioned for two years includes a local talent program to develop skills in cloud computing to encourage innovative solutions for the coming challenges.

One of the projects in progress at GCCD is the construction of the digital creative accelerator complex as a smart building to host small/medium business for creative industries, and an innovation center with living labs for IoT, smart cities, and other areas of research interest for the municipality. Besides this new smart building complex, a renewal smart building project called the “Ingenium Campus” will be the vector of knowledge within the city.

It comprises an incubator to support local start-ups in the digital creative and smart cities fields, a media arts magnet middle school and the Ingenium Institute as a joint effort between the educational universities of Guadalajara and the GCCD companies for talent engagement, education and entrepreneurship development.

Hence, the first services in the private cloud will be related to environmental, social and economic aspects of the city.

The challenges foreseen for the IEEE Guadalajara pilot and cloud initiative include finding a cost effective strategy to support the private cloud, and ensuring security for cloud users, which is paramount given the mixed environment of government, citizens and companies who will be sharing the private cloud. Additionally, the city must adapt public policies to enhance the benefits of a consolidated infrastructure with the proposed private cloud and concepts such as the UOS. With Guadalajara as its first Smart City, the IEEE Smart Cities Initiative is working to build a consortium of cities to share their experience and best practices.

About the author

Victor M. Larios has received his PhD and a DEA in Computer Science at the Technological University of Compiègne, France and a BA in Electronics Engineering at the ITESO University in Guadalajara, Mexico. He works at the University of Guadalajara (UDG) holding a Full Professor-Researcher position at the Department of Information Systems and he is the director of the Smart Cities Innovation Center at CUCEA UDG Campus. Besides, Dr. Victor M. Larios is the founder of the UDG PhD in Information Technologies in 2007, and has been leading projects in Guadalajara between academy, government and high tech industry as IBM, Intel and HP focusing his research to distributed systems, parallel computing, data analytics and visualization, serious games and smart cities.