Does Kubernetes Hold the Key to Digital Transformation Scalability for Smart Communities?
Eric Rensel, FLTA
The Kubernetes Approach to Smart Communities
Kubernetes is an open-source container management system that is gaining traction among organizations large and small. It’s automated container orchestration improves reliability and reduces the time and resources attributed to daily operations. Transportation planners can look to Kubernetes for developing equity-based smart city technologies.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been evaluating the merits of digital smart cities technologies to improve quality of life and expand economic prospects.
Their goal is to implement the fourth industrial revolution while achieving core community goals:
- Digital transformation cannot be achieved by widening the digital divide and leaving our most vulnerable citizens behind.
- Digital transformation that isn’t transparent and open for government hurts us more than it helps us.
- Digital transformation that does not provide the proper safeguards (digitally or physically) could disenfranchise consumers, thus derailing other opportunities to advance.
There are three core building blocks that smart communities need to implement digital transformation in true smart cities:
- A smart region must include a central open data platform.
- Each region must integrate diverse and innovative solutions from proven providers and startups.
- Each region must combine these technologies in the simplest user interface possible.
Kubernetes, also known as K8s, may offer the best approach to integrating these three core building blocks to achieve scalable digital transformation.
I’ve heard a lot about Kubernetes at industry events lately as both public and private organizations look to add better solutions to the digital transformation ecosystem while avoiding the creation of siloed applications.
In fact, my colleagues at GeoDecisions, a division of Gannett Fleming, are working in this space as well. According to GeoDecisions President Brendan Wesdock, MCP, GISP, “Kubernetes will solve many issues associated with diverse digital ecosystem development .”
Before we dive deeper into why Kubernetes can be a catalyst for smart cities, let’s consider some use cases.
Use Case 1: Safe Flexibility for Business Travelers
From a user standpoint, “safe flexibility” is the term that makes the most sense. Users want to know their personal data is treated with the utmost security and safety. Still, they also want the convenience (aka flexibility) of changing their minds an infinite number of times.
I recently attended an event in downtown Los Angeles for five days. I decided not to rent a car due to the costs of concierge parking, so I opted for a ride share from the airport to downtown. During my stay, I was about a mile from the convention center. That week I walked and used micromobility, car-sharing, and public transit. By the end of my trip, I had four new travel apps on my phone, had set up four different accounts, and amassed a fair amount of credit card charges.
I lacked having one app that could provide all the transportation options available to me and their costs. In addition, I also traded personal security for convenience by establishing four different accounts that all stored my relevant contact information and banking information. I don’t think I’m much different from the average business traveler or overall traveler. This trend will likely continue and even be compounded.
“Kubernetes will solve many issues associated with diverse digital ecosystem development.”
Brendan Wesdock, MCP, GISP, GeoDecisions President
Several companies in the mobility space today offer solutions to this challenge, but most are not at scale and follow a traditional model of proprietary workflows that use monolithic design and reliance on microservices to execute.
Of course, this offers security benefits and allows for controlled future expansion. The problem is that the future is not likely (in my opinion) to unfold with only a few major technology providers. The smart folks at CB Insights support this view and released an impressive infographic on global unicorns in their Oct. 13 article, “$1B+ Market Map: The world’s 1,191 unicorn companies in one infographic.” This points to the need for smart communities seeking digital transformation, who also want more control over their development environment to customize citizen user satisfaction, to work with providers using Kubernetes to provide open source and DevOps ecosystems.
The benefits are not limited to transportation examples either. Let’s look at a second use case to truly make this relevant for smart communities.
Use Case 2: Coral Gables Smart City Hub
Many forward-looking cities, such as Coral Gables, Florida, emphasize the development of publicly available open-data portals, like the Coral Gables Smart City Hub. Coral Gables has transformed its interactions with its citizens by investing in technology across all of its infrastructure.
According to Director of Innovation and Technology and Chief Innovation Officer Raimundo Rodulfo, PE, MSEM, PMP, CSSBB, the open portal “creates the platform by which we demonstrate the value of investment to our citizens, educate them on how to maximize its value, and provide the inspiration for future improvements.”
Coral Gables invites innovators to seek partnerships that benefit citizens—tying them back to the core smart community elements highlighted at the beginning of this article. A continued shift to Kubernetes-based development will provide the velocity and stability needed to expand their distributed provider ecosystem.
Rodulfo adds that “allowing as many providers to collaborate as possible while ensuring the protection of personal information, interoperability with municipal platforms, and compliance with regulatory frameworks may be the most important keys to the proliferation of smart communities everywhere.”
Shifting Your Development Process to Using Kubernetes
According to Ohan Oumoudian, a senior GIS architect with GeoDecisions, these are the primary ideas to consider when shifting your development process to using Kubernetes:
- Adopt a cloud-first mindset. The infrastructure needs are quite large for most companies. Use the cloud when you need it, pay for what you use, scale up when needed, and scale down when the traffic is low.
- Let the technology work for you. There are numerous software solutions in the cloud. Use one that works for your workflow, rather than conforming the workflow to the technology. Conform the workflow to the user experience and have the technology bring value to you.
- Invest in a cloud-first mindset. Reimagine your solutions in the cloud. Do not move to the cloud in a lift-and-shift approach, and leverage SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service). Pick your SaaS or PaaS wisely and assess how they integrate with other SaaS and PaaS.
- Keep it simple. If changes to your infrastructures are scary, you won’t scale. Optimize your infrastructure, understand its dependencies, don’t be afraid to build new infrastructure, and remember to let technology work for you. Standing up an infrastructure should not take longer than a cup of coffee.
“Allowing as many providers to collaborate as possible while ensuring the protection of personal information, interoperability with municipal platforms, and compliance with regulatory frameworks may be the most important keys to the proliferation of smart communities everywhere.”
Raimundo Rodulfo, PE, MSEM, PMP, CSSBB, Director of Innovation and Technology and Chief Innovation Officer
Plan for cloud solutions by building as if you have infinite resources that require little concern but are available at a moment’s notice:
- Treat infrastructure as code: Write the infrastructure configuration as lines of code. This will save you time to stand up, migrate, upgrade, and downgrade your infrastructure.
- Containers: To put it simply, they are the next generation of virtual machines. They are lighter, and they come prepackaged and ready to run. Containerized solutions scale in the cloud vertically but, more importantly, horizontally.
Containers in a Pod work much like peas in a pod: if they serve the same, put them together. Containers give users the same experience developers have and vice versa. Developers see what users experience, eliminating the common “but-it’s-working-for-me” situations. Containers hold all the application dependencies and configurations, minimizing the length of traditional solution deployments that require web services, databases, network configuration, versions of java, .Net, or other third packages.
Communities across North America are searching for ways to use digital transformation to deliver equity, open their economy, and stake their claim within the growing smart communities’ ecosystem. Kubernetes can play a key role in this journey.
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