“There was a time when every household, town, farm or village had its own water well. Today, shared public utilities give us access to clean water by simply turning on the tap; cloud computing works in a similar fashion. Just like water from the tap in your kitchen, cloud computer services can be turned on or off quickly as needed. Like at the water company, there is a team of dedicated professionals making sure the service provided is safe, secure and available on a 24/7 basis. When the tap isn’t on, you’re not only saving water, but you aren’t paying for resources you don’t currently need. – Vivek Kundra – Former US Federal CIO
I’m going to go a bit geek in this chapter, I believe that underpinning a Smart City has to be a Smart Computing platform. That platform is best operated as a Community Cloud. Community Cloud is a service that is shared by several different organisations and supports a community that has specific shared goals, visions, aspirations, and commonality.
If that’s all too much of a mouthful, a Community Cloud is a shared computing workspace for the city. It becomes the place where the underlying ICT needs for the other aspects of the Smart City are powered from.
As we go through each of the aspects of a Smart City, they all link back to the Community Cloud in some fashion.
There are certain characteristics and governance that are required to build and maintain a Community Cloud.
The location of the Community Cloud does not necessarily need to be in Wellington or even in New Zealand. Services can be bought for an extremely good rate from providers like Azure, Google, or Amazon. I personally think that it would be good for Wellington if it were built within the city area and was built by Wellingtonians rather than outsourcing it to a large overseas megacorp.
Someone will need to manage it. This could be the Wellington City Council proper, however as they are a part of our Community it would be better to create an independent group to look after our Community Cloud. We could use any number of local Cloud providers to establish and look after our service. Once established the costs of managing and maintaining the service are minimal; hundreds of dollars per month, not thousands.
Someone will need to build it. There are several local organisations that have already deployed Cloud and are more than capable of assisting the city. In addition, we have smart tech companies in Wellington that can lend their expertise on the design and management of the service. Snapper is already run on Cloud and Xero provides a Cloud service internationally with over 300,000 customers.
Our Cloud needs to be built on open software. Software that is free for all as opposed to being licensed from large private companies. This allows much better compatibility with services that would use the platform.
“It is also a matter of synergy: the neurons in a brain may all be functioning really well, but it is only when they are connected that the true beauty of the mind comes into play. The cloud would give our city the connections it needs to become a truly great brain.” – Hayley Robinson, candidate for Onslow-Western Ward
Our Cloud needs to be accessible to everyone in the City. This means that it must be accessible via a standard internet connection that any device can then use. For areas where the community has a digital divide, there must be publicly accessible devices, for free, most likely in libraries. In addition, free wireless (another blog) should allow our lesser well off to connect via phone, our visitors connect without horrendous international data charges, and our communities to have level access to the Internet.
Anything that we build as a Smart City must then live on and be accessible from that Cloud. If we build applications to manage parking, they get built on our Community Cloud. If we have traffic management, public transport, and other services, they go on our Cloud. The city website goes in there along with, eventually, all other ratepayer accessible services online.
The Wellington Council’s internal ICT should be put into the Cloud as well, the cost savings from that work alone would likely fund the entire Community Cloud build and management for years to come. In fact, a quarter of the recent millions that were spent on sprucing up the Council website would have been enough to establish this service.
The Cloud could provide cheap services to startup companies and for small to medium size business in the city. Sharing the costs of that back end ICT makes a lot of sense, it frees up money to allow businesses to focus on what they do well, rather than pouring money into a bottomless hole that is trying to do ICT by yourself.
It becomes the platform for online community. This is a concept that is rapidly developing overseas with excellent results. The ability for ratepayers to interact with each other, the Council, and the Councillors in a public forum online, has seen smart ideas, innovations, and thinking collected and acted on.
The Cloud will need to be an openly democratic service where people use their real names. Anonymity should be discouraged.
The Community Cloud will be open to Wellington ratepayers, our communities, our businesses, and our visitors.
OK, that’s enough geek stuff, let’s get on with some real thinking around Smart City.