Cities are the centerpiece for the vast majority of the world’s data production and energy consumption. According to the United Nations, more than half (55 percent) of the global population currently resides in urban areas, and that number is projected to rise to nearly 70 percent over the next three decades.

It’s predicted that in the next five years, around 80 billion devices will be smart devices with Internet connection, and that cities may produce as much as 180 zettabytes of data by 2025. The World Bank reports that cities consume up to 80 percent of worldwide energy production, and are projected to account for around three-quarters of global greenhouse gases by 2030.

Cities Under Stress

With all of this to contend with, it’s no surprise that cities must manage what can seem like overwhelming challenges in everything from transportation and infrastructure to public health and safety—the latter of which we’ve seen stressed to the max in the face of the current global pandemic related to the coronavirus. Such challenges will continue to multiply as the population grows and even more people become city dwellers in densely packed areas.

The number of global IoT initiatives that are smart-city projects is also growing exponentially—Microsoft reports that smart-city projects comprise 23 percent of all global IoT initiatives. The result is that hyperconnected smart cities are becoming integral to the smooth functioning of urban areas. Researchers have found that edge computing and smart IoT edge devices have taken on an expanding role in “realizing the vision of smart cities,” as noted in a study Khan et al for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

On the Edge

Today’s metropolises need smart edge devices to monitor, predict, and simulate on a wide scale. As Khan et al write: “Smart city services are not limited and can refer to many different processes, resulting in more reliable, secure, sustainable, and innovative cities with unique entrepreneurial opportunities.” The researchers also explain an important distinction between standard cloud computing and edge computing, noting that while the former’s “inherent limitations of high latency, non-context-aware behavior, and no support for mobility pose serious limitations on its use in real-time smart environments,” edge computing helps overcome these problems.

The study states: “Edge computing extends the cloud computing resources to the network edge and offers context-awareness, low latency, mobility support, scalability, to name a few. Hence, to address the limitations of cloud computing for enabling real-time smart city environments, edge computing is a viable solution.”

There’s one issue, though, that must still be addressed with edge computing for smart cities: security. In order to provide secure connectivity from datacenters and the cloud to the edge, software-defined perimeter (SDP) security is required.

Secure Connectivity

A key benefit of SDP technology is that it allows smart IoT edge devices access to only specific applications to which they have been authorized in the datacenter and cloud. This “zero trust” architecture ensures that edge devices aren’t privy to a slice of the entire network indiscriminately. By moving beyond network-level access to give edge devices application-level access, this zero-trust approach means that lateral attacks are eliminated. It creates a “secure by default” environment that smart cities need.

SDP allows data to be transported directly from smart IoT edge devices to an on-premises site and/or multi-cloud/hybrid-cloud environment via encrypted micro-tunnels, and public key authentication, for secure connectivity and transmission—exactly what’s needed for a hyperconnected smart city. The way that some SDP software is able to achieve this is by relying on an enhanced user datagram protocol (UDP) with randomly generated ports. These enhanced UDP ports are what make the tunnels and servers virtually invisible and untraceable to hackers.

City IT staff will also appreciate that SDP offers simplicity of configuration and management for scalability, which is essential given the gargantuan challenges of urban areas noted above. SDP software takes literally seconds to connect smart IoT edge devices to IoT edge hubs in datacenters or the cloud after installation, and it integrates smoothly into existing and future networking infrastructure such as 5G. No appliances are needed, and SDP also avoids the configuration, maintenance and security headaches of VPNs. (While VPNs worked decently with physical servers, they aren’t sufficient in today’s edge computing environments with billions of devices.)

Performance also benefits from SDP, since IT can configure tunnels between edge devices and edge hubs on any commodity hardware which solves the potential problem of vendor lock-in. Another benefit is that tunnels can be made highly available with built-in failover.

The Right Equation

With research proving that edge computing is a viable way to realize advances in real-time smart cities, smart IoT edge devices are key for solving the complexities of urban environments. But smart devices get us only halfway there—secure connectivity is also needed across various clouds, domains, and sites to link with clients and applications in a distributed setting. Using an SDP client paired with smart devices, a secure, hyperconnected smart city is truly achievable.

Don Boxley, Co-founder and CEO, DH2i