Observability is key to building smart cities of the future

By SolarWinds

Why observability is fundamental to the management of smart cities, and the tools that can help city planners gain a comprehensive overview of a city’s devices, networks, servers and applications.

To enable the smart cities of the future, and the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as robots, augmented reality and the Internet of Things, reliable and resilient smart IT Operations Management (ITOM) platforms will be key. Image: Canva

From India’s 100 Smart Cities initiative to Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, governments around the world are developing innovative smart city projects to improve citizens’ quality of life. Smart cities require the integration of a diverse range of cutting-edge technology, from robots and augmented reality (AR) to the Internet of Things (IoT).  


All of these work together in harmony to create cities resembling science fiction, where autonomous robots deliver parcels or monitor the health of the elderly. However, underlying these technologies is a complex system of networks, sensors, and applications. What’s crucial is ensuring all of these interconnected technologies run reliably and seamlessly.  


“When vital functions within a city are driven by networks and applications, you cannot afford downtime,” said Sascha Giese, Global Tech Evangelist of SolarWinds. “This is especially so since multiple systems are interconnected within smart cities. When one network fails, it could impact a larger swath of applications.”  


Take the example of traffic lights. A malfunctioning traffic light disconnected from the network in a cosmopolitan city like Singapore might cause some chaos, but the damage would be limited to a particular crossing. If an entire system loses connectivity, causing multiple traffic lights and other signaling devices to fail, it could cause massive disorder for the entire city.  


While building a smart city seems like a daunting task, Sascha believes it is not an impossible one. In an interview with GovInsider, he shares tools and solutions designed to support governments and city planners to create well-functioning, reliable, and resilient smart cities.  

Sascha Giese has more than 10 years of technical IT experience, five of which have been as a Head Geek for Technical Product Marketing, International, at SolarWinds. Image: SolarWinds

A complete overview of IT systems  


In the dynamic realm of smart cities, the key to smooth operations lies in smart IT Operations Management (ITOM) platforms. Smart ITOM will allow cities to look at IT in totality while providing the ability to drill down into specific aspects of the infrastructure – servers, databases, networks, performance, security, and more. Sascha underscores three fundamental pillars underpinning successful ITOM – aggregation, visualisation, and understanding. 


Firstly, a city’s IT team plays a central role in consolidating infrastructure data in a way that has to be highly accessible and secure. Sascha emphasises information aggregation holds even more significance in larger cities where intricate interdependencies within the city’s infrastructure come into play. As systems intertwine, aggregation acts as a revealing lens, shedding light on the nuanced causes and effects ing the urban landscape. 


Secondly, successful ITOM hinges on achieving complete full-stack visibility for the IT team. This entails having insights into individual components and a comprehensive understanding of the overall infrastructure. More significantly, the IT teams must be able to make sense of the relationships between different components powering the smart city. 

Finally, a profound “understanding” of the IT environment powering a smart city is critical. While raw data is pertinent, adding context through intelligent reporting will be key for prompt issue resolution and informed decision-making by the IT team. 

The possibility of Smart Cities management is exemplified by the case study of Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). TxDOT manages nearly 4,000 traffic-related devices, including cameras, LED-based road signs, and more. However, the department struggled to monitor the status of these devices that are located across Dallas, Texas. Without an overview of all these devices, the department could only rely on manual monitoring by staff or count on citizens reporting issues when they saw them.  


SolarWinds helped TxDOT implement a monitoring solution that granted them full visibility over these devices. SolarWinds solutions were even able to rank the alerts in the level of severity. This greatly helped to improve the department’s management of their devices and network and improved the productivity of their staff.  

Powering Smart ITOMs 


According to the white paper by SolarWinds titled “Smart City Technology Management”, there are five primary technologies required for a highly successful smart city environment.  

  1. Performance monitoring and infrastructure management help to monitor, identify issues, and troubleshoot application performance. It also has the ability to manage the city’s wireless infrastructure. 
  2. Application, user experience, and website monitoring provide visibility into the health of key applications and sites. These also help identify application dependencies and related performance  
  3. Digital platform management helps leverage APIs for improved visibility.  
  4. IT security and automated vulnerability management help save time and dramatically improve IT security.  
  5. Support desk solutions track tickets and improve resolution rates and reporting. 

“A full-stacked observability system is not just a “nice to have”. It’s a necessity, given the complexity of our IT environments today”, said Sascha. For instance, SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability provides organisations with a comprehensive performance overview of their IT systems. Designed to function in any environment and deployment, SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability is vendor-agnostic, supporting automated correlation and employing artificial intelligence for intelligent alerts. Notably, it boasts an “open” nature, capable of retrieving or transmitting data via APIs. 


Regarding smart city transformation, Sascha noted that reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary. “While every city is unique, the challenges we’re addressing aren’t groundbreaking. Rather than pursuing tailor-made solutions, cities should instead consider proven and dependable options, and adapting them to suit the city and its residents.” 


On the humanistic front, the early involvement of citizens in the smart city journey is equally crucial, Sascha emphasised. "Citizens need to be inculcated with the vision of a smart city. Their buy-in is pivotal for a successful implementation."