A New Architecture for Smart Cities
Changes will be needed on the Backend to Make the IoT Work
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The backbone of Smart Cities, the internet of things (IoT) is upon us and like the internet for the people this era harkens big changes. Increasingly most every device coming to market has communications capabilities. From household appliances to utility meters to cars to most everything – the stuff we buy can now communicate with each other and backend systems.
A number of technological advances have made the IoT a reality including; the ability to cheaply and efficiently add comms to devices, increased computing power to analyze mass amounts of data, inexpensive storage to manage the data collected and finally new backend architectures to manage the collection, storage and use of the data. What has IT professionals concerned is the massive amounts of data collected and the need to process that data quickly so decisions can be made in real time.
Advances in communications chips sets and other comms components is a big part of the IoT story. No longer is wireless communications clunky and expensive. Not only has the mobile handset gotten smaller and smarter but this communication technology can now be bolted onto most any item. Processing power is critical to crunching what is becoming an unbelievable amount of data with more to come. Moore’s Law has indeed proven equal to this task. The cost of storage is equally a part of the IoT story as the data needs to cheaply and efficiently stored and this cost has come down significantly over the last decade.
Maybe the weak link in the emerging IoT story is the backend systems that must evolve to handle much greater traffic and more complex transactions. Many organizations operate a Two Tier Architecture where it is becoming clear that a migration to a Three Tier Architecture will be required with the coming IoT era. This is not without cost and complexity implications.
A Two Tier Architecture is essentially a client – server (data) setup where there are just two layers in the system. These systems are fast and easy to maintain and are more than adequate in the internet of the people era where the number of transactions are minimal compared to what’s coming in the IoT era. The big disadvantages of Two Tier Architecture are the performance degrades as more users are added, it is not cost effective at scale and does not scales easily.
Enter the Three Tier Architecture that addresses many of these issues. In this set up there is an additional layer referred to as the data access or business layer. So, the overall setup looks like this; client – business – data layers, where the data access / business layer acts as a data referee offering business logic, validation, calculations and data insertion. The addition of the capability allows the system to handle exponentially more traffic and allows for the ability to resolve data conflicts in real time.
The advantages to the Three Tier approach are many. The system scales horizontally providing great flexibility. The system performance is high as data conflicts can be resolved. There is high data integrity due to the new layer and increased security. The down side to this migration is higher costs and higher complexity.
Of course this new Three Tier Architecture is much more complex at the technical level. Like the internet of the people, the IoT reference architecture needs to be designed to be volatile to disruption of the physical network. It also must anticipate the many of the nodes will be mobile and may have intermittent connectivity and use various communication protocols. All this will need to be factored into a much more complex backend system.
Organizations will struggle with this needed migration in the era of the IoT. IT personals will need re-training and systems will need to be put in place to manage the complexity that comes with the Three Tier Architecture but the upgrade will be critical to success. The reality is clear, more and more data will be collected that will need to be processed and stored. Building a backend to address the realities of the era of the IoT will determine who survives and thrives and who perishes and dies.