Creating the Right Platform to Foster the Future of IoT
We all use internet-connected devices in our daily lives: cell phones, tablets, laptops, and much more. Then there are the schools, hospitals, and government agencies that utilize modern technology to keep us safe and our lives running smoothly. From traffic lights and fire alarms to defibrillators and heart monitors, we depend on these electronic devices more than ever.
The numbers are staggering. In 2010, there were more internet-connected devices than people on the planet. And that was eight years ago. By 2020 the number of connected devices will even further increase according to analysts. As the world moves in a direction where nearly every device will be internet-connected, what role should the municipality play in supporting its businesses and citizens?
We are the Municipality of Kungsbacka, on the west coast of Sweden. Our 8,000 employees serve a population of 90,000. Behind those 8,000 people is our 45-person IT team, working hard to ensure their technology needs are met. At Kungsbacka Municipality, we feel like we’ll play a major part in our citizens’ IoT future.
No Longer a Dream, But a Reality
While others are struggling to keep the pace in finding ways to keep their citizens connected, Kungsbacka has taken the lead and is in the forefront when it comes to networking innovation in Sweden.
The idea for this project started roughly a year ago. My team was sitting around, sharing ideas. We knew we needed to do something about IoT development amongst our facilities—and we needed to do it soon. A five-year project would stifle innovation.
We understood that connecting these devices was easy. The hard part was connecting them in a secured way, as well as simplifying management.
Why Is IoT Integration Important?
What stands out about this IoT project is the importance the Kungsbacka politicians have placed on it. It isn’t always easy to talk politicians into spending money proactively, but I am proud to say that our officials listened to what we had to say and understand the importance of this initiative. Once we made them understand the role IoT will play in everyday life in our communities, they knew they needed to give us the resources to make this project a success.
One of the things Kungsbacka Municipality want to do is safely connect systems and devices which help our departments to run more effectively. For instance, we have building managers who want to control ventilation, water, fire alarms, and other aspects of their facilities. Also, our Educational Department is participating in a project together with Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) about IoT. Beyond that, we want to support IoT initiatives we don’t even know exist, or that will exist in the years to come. Without a safe way to bring all of these devices online, they are useless.
The IoT project works toward building a network that can handle this large influx of connectivity for all our departments, like schools, hospitals, and more.
To handle a project of this magnitude, we needed the right technology partners. We turned to equipment provided by one of our strongest technology allies over the past 20 years: Cisco. Cygate acted as a great link and trusted Cisco networking partner.
Facing Each Challenge Head On
Of course, a project of this scope requires seeing potential problems and solving them before the system goes live. That’s what makes this project so exciting. We are at the forefront of its creation and are able to design a network that is able to scale beyond our greatest needs, while making it simple enough for the average user to understand how it works.
While determining how to proceed, my team did face some challenges. Here are the three we took most seriously.
Technology users know the importance of a secure network. But they often don’t care how it works, or the processes involved to make their information secure. They just want it done.
It’s impossible to individually stay on top of every device at our scale. That means we needed a solution to automatically ensure our systems were safe. We turned to Cisco when we learned about an innovative new networking solution called DNA Center, part of Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture for intent-based networking. Although it was a young product, we saw it’s potential. With DNA Center the management of the network will be automated, simplified and faster. We are currently exploring and testing the benefits of the new Catalyst 9300 Series Switches. We see it as a platform that can deliver us the full potential of the infrastructure we are looking for.
What caught our eye was the auto segmentation that could isolate up to x-amount of individual devices with ease. By using Software-Defined Access, we also wouldn’t have to overhaul our complete network. It would simply run on top of our current network. Not only would that save us time, but also money.
What good is a network that people don’t know how to use—or is so complicated they give up trying to make it work? Battling user frustration is the hallmark of any successfully implemented technology design, and this project is no exception. Our entire team thoroughly understood this concept.
It took a little work, but we were able to make the politicians funding our program understand that users don’t care how it works—just like with security. All users wanted was their devices to connect so they could move forward with their innovative projects. They didn’t care about anything else.
When first dealing with the usability issue, we had to figure out how to get the most out of our resources. This meant creating one workable network. We don’t have the time or resources to design hundreds of separate networks with their own firewalls, so we decided to run all devices through one network. We believed this would make it easier to protect and use.
A big advantage of the new system will be new automated profiles, which will make creating firewall rules much easier. Users can simply use the device without having to worry about its security.
What good is a network that shuts down periodically or doesn’t work? The answer is: It isn’t any good. One approach to fix this dilemma is replacing devices before they reach their end of life. We decided to replace individual components right away, which will allow us to expand our network quicker and more easily. For example, we needed to replace the blades in the Core switches, since we needed more 10GB interfaces. In addition, we had to replace our firewalls/web filters so we could get the whole benefit of TrustSec.
But it’s more than replacing switches, routers, and other hardware. While that’s an important part of the project, it goes beyond that. We recently negotiated a new Enterprise License Agreement with Cisco, which entitles us to the latest software updates which we can use to keep our entire network up to date over the next five years.
This will allow us to grow by up to 20% and make it easier to expand certain buildings—like hospitals—without increasing our cost base. This gives us more reliability and offers the kind of continuity that our users expect.
Time Is on Our Side
Time is usually a detriment when it comes to large-scale projects. But, thanks to Cisco, Cygate, and my team’s diligent work, we’ve moved at an incredibly fast pace. A project that should have taken 5 years or more is scheduled for completion in less than 24 months. This is good news for those designing the new network and those waiting for its fall 2018 implementation.
Cisco has been an incredible partner during this process—and throughout our 20 years together. Their reliable products and supportive team have helped accelerate our timeline for this massive project.
Knowing how quickly the IoT devices will be online has allowed the institutions we support to increase development. Hospitals have begun to redesign how they handle healthcare and schools can now plan for future developments, knowing help is right around the corner.
The vision of a fully IoT ready integrated intent-based network will transform the way our municipality runs. We will soon be able to look at all ideas—even those we never dreamed possible—thanks to our ability to bring new devices online, fast, manageable and secure.
It is the municipality’s job to support its citizens, and now, thanks to this project, Kungsbacka leads the way in showing the world just how important IT is in that journey. We are at the forefront of a whole new way of life. Our ability to think strategically and implement a project of this magnitude shows our fortitude, intellect, and workmanship. The world is watching us—and we have a lot to show it.