Smart cities need a smarter network

Smart city applications will rely on the roll out of dependable, high-bandwidth infrastructure

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Smart cities need a smarter network PLM systems can supply accurate, real time information on the state of the network so that network managers are able to ensure that smart city solutions remain connected, says Musschebroeck.
By  Rudy Musschebroeck Published  August 26, 2015

Smart cities are urban areas that create sustainable economic development and high quality of life, along with a wise management of natural resources through the application of networked technology. They require investment in infrastructure and technology, including networks of sensors in everything from parking spaces to lighting, heating and cooling systems. While most of the attention has been on sensors and software for interpreting masses of smart city data, a smart city will not be so smart if the physical network breaks down.

The smart city concept envisions a large network of embedded sensors that measure everything from traffic conditions to heating and cooling systems. The goal is to increase sustainability and provide residents with an improved quality of life. To accomplish this, all of the sensors in a smart city are connected to a data centre where data can be captured, catalogued and analysed to create changes in the community for the betterment of its residents. The data captured by the city can characterise the needs of the residents and visitors as it pertains to resource utilisation and waste, transportation infrastructure and more.

But there’s a long way to go in creating Middle Eastern cities that will be able to capture data and, ultimately, course correct for the betterment of the residents. The cities needs to have intelligent infrastructure to capture the data. The data centre needs to be strong, robust and secure to correctly characterise and monitor the data. Essentially, the systems need to be able to respond to the data to optimise a process or function in the community.

Network managers can use Physical Layer Management (PLM) to maintain uptime, security, and create efficiency in their data centre networks. PLM systems include intelligent connectors on patch cords and intelligent ports on distribution frames and patch panels, along with a database that reports the state of every network connection. They also provide circuit mapping, alarming and reporting. It essentially enables easier, smarter network management for everyone from cable installers to network managers, strengthening physical security, boosting availability and providing real-time communication with network assets.

PLM technology

Connection Point Identification (CPID) is the core technology behind PLM, providing visibility into the physical layer network. CPID chips are factory-installed on each cable connector. They include all of the critical parameters of the assembly, including a unique serial number for each connector. When a connector is inserted into a PLM-enabled panel or frame system, the chip is automatically read, and the connection is documented in the database. When the other end of the cable assembly is installed, the system reads that chip, and through its unique ID, associates the two ports as being connected. When a connector is removed, the event is immediately recognised and the system is automatically updated. This ensures that network operators have accurate, real-time visibility to the physical layer network.

PLM software gives the user access to accurate data at any time to manage and maintain their network. PLM software is a server software application designed to document and administer both passive and active network connectivity infrastructure. It enables management of various levels of network components from existing brownfield infrastructure to traditional and automated physical layer management solutions. As part of the PLM system, the software enables immediate notification and response to changes in connectivity and automatically records the configurations of the physical layer cabling system and its devices with accurate documentation.

Consequently, PLM provides accurate, real-time documentation of the network. This informs the network technicians, giving them the information they need to work on the right circuit at the right time. It also gives network managers the ability to monitor and manage connectivity and capacity.

The benefits

With a PLM system the network manager knows the state of the network in real time, and can plan for capacity and access changes as needed. For example, a series of sensors monitoring the power grid would change its needs depending on whether most power was being used in businesses during the work day or in homes at night. Knowing the state of the network allows the network manager to shift network capacity to the right area of the network to accommodate the needs of sensors at any given time. Having access to real-time data is the next step to building a network that can self-correct or evolve based on the needs of the community.

Additionally, the sensor network will continue to evolve over time. As more sensors are added, the network must provide connectivity and bandwidth for them, so it must be dynamically manageable. Managers can use a PLM system to understand when and where access and bandwidth are available in the network and plan for efficient growth.

Besides capacity and access, the network manager in a smart city must ensure network uptime. Physical connection problems are a key cause of network outages and addressing this typically involves sending a technician to hunt through the network to find a disconnected cord, which can take hours. With a PLM system, the network manager can know immediately when and where a network connection becomes unplugged, and can direct a technician to the precise location of that connection for faster recovery from outages. Therefore, no communications or systems stay down for long. This is especially important with mission-critical systems such as traffic lights and signals, electric power monitors, or hospital monitoring systems.

Finally, a PLM system enhances network security. If someone tries to divert network traffic by unplugging a patch cord and plugging in another patch cord that reroutes traffic, the PLM system immediately produces an alarm and the network manager can notify security personnel.

Middle Eastern smart city infrastructures are still in the planning stages, so now is the time to consider PLM systems in data centres. While PLM infrastructure costs fractionally more than a traditional data centre connectivity system, Middle Eastern cities will get more back from their investment as this technology will shorten network downtime, delayed problem resolution, and labour-intensive manual mapping of the network.

Rudy Musschebroeck is business development manager at TE Connectivity.

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