UK 'Open' Smart City Shows Faith in SDN
Optical equipment specialist Polatis has landed a key role in an "open programmable city" initiative in Bristol, UK, which has deployed the vendor's SDN-enabled optical switches.
The deployment is a key one for Polatis Inc. , as it provides the company with a reference deployment for how its switches can be deployed in a software-defined programmable network, in this instance with OpenFlow as the enabling protocol.
The initiative is also interesting for cities and municipalities, as well as telcos, looking for a networking model that can deliver the flexibility and scale needed to cope with the future demands of cloud services, video, IoT connectivity and capacity-hungry real-time applications not yet developed.
The "Bristol is Open" initiative involves the development of a "digital R&D test bed for a liveable smart city," states Paul Wilson, the managing director of the joint venture between the City Council of Bristol, which is in the west of England with a population of about 450,000, and houses the University of Bristol. "We can claim to be the world's first open programmable city," he adds.
To achieve that project has taken a platform and vendor agnostic approach -- it is not locking into any single supplier or technology -- and has deliberately invested in a high-capacity metro transport network, with 144 optical fibers running through the city's ducts, giving the projects "potentially terabits of capacity," says Wilson, with the Polatis switches enabling a high degree of flexibility, he notes.
That, in turn, opens the door to trying out any application, without constraints. "We have been talking with other smart cities that are facing limitations in what they can do because of their lack of capacity and because their smart city projects have not been coordinated -- they have been developed in silos. We are taking a very collaborative approach," and engaging in a number of experiments that have an impact on society, the most glamorous of which is a driverless car trial, he notes.
That open approach is enabled by the way the underlying networking and IT infrastructure has been developed. Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, CTO of Bristol is Open, says that as far as her team is aware, "This is the first fully deployed SDN city, covering the transport network, Ethernet switches, wireless and IoT platforms [RF sensor mesh]."
Making the network flexible, open and underpinned with large volumes of potential capacity means that further technologies can be connected and multiple applications can be tested over it. "The wireless already includes WIFI and LTE and later in the year we will be adding millimeter wave and Massive MIMO components," technologies now closely associated with 5G.
The city's Planetarium is already connected to the network and enabling new digital displays, including a 3D image of Bristol created using real-time data provided by existing IT systems, sensors and analytics platforms. Next there are plans to run 4K video streams across the network.
The project is diverse but it's not enormous. While Bristol is Open is able to access various physical and IT assets, such as the City Council's duct network, that would otherwise have cost about £75 million (US$116 million) to build from scratch, says Wilson, while £4.3 million ($6.65 million) has been made available for capex and an extra £1 million ($1.55 million) for the Planetarium upgrade.
Naturally, Polatis is very keen to highlight its role and the ability of its switches to be programmed by the Bristol is Open SDN controller, which has been developed by Simeonidou's team using OpenDaylight specifications. "We have done a lot of extensions ourselves and have interfaces with OpenStack," which is the OS for the project's cloud platform.
Nick Parsons, CTO at Polatis, tells Light Reading that this is the first time the company's DirectLight OpenFlow-enabled optical switches have been integrated with other network elements in an SDN-controlled network. "We can enable dynamic provisioning of the transport layer and allow it to be sliced up into app segments," says Parsons, adding that the system optical layer protection capabilities also protect against downtime from physical network faults.
Simeonidou, who says Polatis beat out about five other vendors for the role, intends to use that network slicing function to create a new type of service that she calls "city experimentation as a service." (That would be CEaaS.) "We are going to offer virtual slices of the infrastructure that can be used for experimentation in isolation... It will be customized for each user. In terms of providing network slices, we believe this is the first environment for this," says the CTO.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading