What's in the Cloud for Florida's ITS

Looking at Your Neighbor's Answer Sheet?

Cloud computing is already improving availability, cost and time efficiency, flexibility, and otherwise unattainable services in countless ways in other industries. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) strives to take the best products and practices from other industries and fine-tune them to fulfill our vision. As an example of this, ITS has taken data centers, telecommunications, streaming video and shared display, radar, video processing, full color dynamic message signs, and countless computer science algorithms, and leveraged, integrated, and elevated their value for ITS.

Where is the Cloud Now?

Currently, the cloud provides services that would otherwise be outside the region of feasible to obtain; however, after adopted, these services have become mission critical. Imagine a motorist setting up their own personal live traffic information system, rather than using Florida’s 511 advanced traveler information system and mobile app. Several traffic data providers are already using the cloud to push ITS beyond urban, limited-access roads and into rural areas and arterials. Other types of cloud services that provide value to other industries and that hold promise to providing value to ITS include:

  • Information dissemination to the public
  • Transaction processing for customers over multiple points of sale
  • Data center and/or custom applications and systems for unrestricted use
  • Software development and hosted testing environment in the cloud
  • Off-site disaster recovery and backup

What is Our ITS Cloud Vision?

The cloud is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every application; however, as with any new technology or approach, we will evaluate ways in which the cloud can benefit the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) ITS Program in similar ways it benefits other industries, and how to carefully integrate cloud-based solutions in a manner that minimizes impact to operations, minimizes cost over the long term, and provides value to current needs – one step at a time. We’ve discussed several ways in which the cloud is used in other industries, so let’s take a look at some of our existing, desired, and potential operations and visualize how they could be delivered by the cloud.

There are other agencies, both smaller municipalities within Florida, and agencies of all scopes and sizes outside of Florida that may benefit from the cloud by not having to deploy a large data center from scratch; the cloud would give them the flexibility to scale the amount of cloud resources they consume as their operation grows. The following list shows several applications of a SunGuide® software deployment and how a cloud solution might specifically benefit each in addition to the general benefits already described:

  • Third-party ITS data feeds – Having a cloud deliver ITS data to SunGuide software reduces the burden on ITS operations to maintain and operate a set of field devices or complex systems. No matter how complex the deployment or systems are that produce the product, a data feed is much easier to operate, maintain, and consume than a local deployment of the devices and central systems. This is already in use for traffic data in rural areas and arterials, where detectors may not be deployed. There’s no doubt the future holds many other solutions, delivered as data feeds that can be incorporated into ITS operations by tapping into the cloud-hosted data feed. Weather is another existing example. This solution type also allows for system developers, trainers, and demonstrators to make use of the data feed without utilizing the production system or environment, which is currently not possible with traditionally deployed detectors and other devices. Cloud-based data feeds provide value over traditional, local devices and systems through the ease and virtual elimination of local deployment as well as accessibility to non-production usages.
  • Information dissemination to end users – Having a cloud-based solution helps to collect and distribute information to many users located virtually anywhere. Currently, Florida’s 511 system and the new central data warehouse utilize cloud services to deliver information to motorists, researchers, other FDOT offices, and their contractors. In the past, each region was responsible for deploying, operating, and maintaining a regional 511 system and for providing data archive files to the universities for research. FDOT is already extracting value from the accessibility and ease of data collection that a centralized cloud solution provides over locally deployed systems.
  • SunGuide software testing or staging deployment – Having a cloud solution available for this would allow new versions of the software and other proposed configuration changes to be tested prior to production deployment. Having this system in the cloud adds the additional benefit of allowing SunGuide software support to easily access and obtain detailed test results, provide deployment training, and test what impacts would be caused by any change to the system. Availability of this system provides tremendous value and cost savings over deploying traditional, private test systems.
  • SunGuide software training and demonstration system deployment – Having a cloud solution would maintain consistent quality in the training resources available for operator training and demonstrations. This system would have a set of configurations available and easily changeable to emulate any deployed system or any desired test configuration, and to be used for agency-specific training and demonstration needs. Consistent quality and safety of this training and demonstration resource provides value over classroom training without a training system or the risk of using the production system to provide training or demonstrations.
  • SunGuide software disaster recovery deployment – Many FDOT Districts and most smaller agencies have not yet deployed a full copy of their production system for immediate disaster recovery. A new system would have to be deployed using backups. Having the production system replicated onto a cloud-hosted disaster recovery system would provide this capability, which would reduce the cost, schedule, and ongoing maintenance burden of a transportation management center (TMC) maintaining a private, disaster recovery failover deployment. For many, this falls into the category of a new deployment, which we have already discussed as the value added by a cloud-hosted solution.
  • SunGuide software database and configuration backup – If a full deployment is not needed, there is value in replicating even the database portion of a SunGuide software deployment. A TMC can focus on managing their resources and can have a database replication backup ready to go in the cloud. This would not be much different from the disaster recovery as the SunGuide software application could be cloned and launched quickly if needed, and much faster with the database already replicated and online. This would be one of the components of the disaster recovery deployment, but without as much effort to maintain and test the application servers. This would also allow SunGuide software support to access the database and configuration information needed to help resolve issues with the production system.
  • SunGuide software cloud development – Having a cloud-hosted development environment solution would allow more vendors the ability to add value to the software. Currently, the Change Management Board requests vendors to write their own device drivers for integration into SunGuide software. Having this development environment hosted in the cloud would alleviate the vendors from setting up their own local development environment, which is a significant burden without existing knowledge of the SunGuide software. SunGuide software development support and collaboration would be made possible and easy in the cloud environment as well. Researchers could also participate in modification of SunGuide software to prototype the innovation they are attempting to add to the ITS program.

There is a future for ITS in the cloud. In fact, the cloud is already here and in use for Florida’s 511 system and traffic data feeds, and we’re analyzing, building, and deploying new solutions one step at a time, where we can enable otherwise infeasible solutions or save significant cost.