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NoSQL for the Internet of Things. Interview with Mike Williams.

by Roberto V. Zicari on June 5, 2014

“The Internet of Things is a good fit for NoSQL technologies, as you face the challenge of dealing with huge volumes of data over time. For businesses that wish to scale their IoT implementations and make use of the data that these networks create, NoSQL solutions are a better fit than RDBMS options.”–Mike Williams

I have interviewed Mike Williams, software director for i20 Water. Mike has an interesting use case for NoSQL in the area of water distribution networks. We also discussed how NoSQL can be used for the Internet of Things.
RVZ

Q1. What is the business of i20 Water? 

Mike Williams: i2O is the world’s leading developer of Smart Pressure Management solutions for water distribution networks.

Q2. What are the main benefits for utility companies? 

Mike Williams: i2O’s Smart Pressure Management solutions optimise the performance of water distribution networks through improving network visibility, and enabling the remote control and automatic optimisation of network pressures.
These technology-enabled best practices deliver benefits in six key areas, with customers typically achieving return on investment in 6-18 months.
The opportunities for savings fall into two areas: on the network side, we see leakage reduction, energy savings and a big reduction in burst pipes.
For our utility customers, there are business-level returns as well based on improved customer service and operational cost savings. We also see customers being able to extend the life of their assets across the network as well, so they see a real long-term benefit to being able to control water pressure more accurately.

Q3. Do you have any metrics to share with us on the estimated volume of water saved by using your software? 

Mike Williams: The best metric we can give is the simple volume of water that we help customers save: we currently help our customers to save over 235 Million Litres of water every day.

Q4. How can big data be used to reduce water leakage? 

Mike Williams: The i2O system monitors and controls water pressure throughout a zone or network. This enables water companies to fully optimise water pressures remotely and automatically to meet agreed customer service levels throughout the network. The Big Data is all of this time-series data of pressures and flows (and other metrics) for lots of locations over years’ worth of points.
The solution continuously learns key characteristics within a Zone and then automatically controls the pressure within the Zone to achieve a stable target pressure at the critical point. This is achieved through a sophisticated mathematical algorithm, which automatically generates a control model. The control model is supplied ‘over the air’ from i2O software to the Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) controller.
The control model is automatically updated if the software detects a significant change in the head loss characteristics. This ensures that no more pressure than is required enters the network on an ongoing basis. The i2O Automatic Optimisation solution is the world’s first – and most widely deployed – system for automatically optimising and remotely controlling water pressure in your network.
i2O’s Automatic PRV Optimisation has delivered significant results in hundreds of zones for major water companies worldwide.

Q5. Could you please describe your IT back-end infrastructure? What are  the main challenges you have? 

Mike Williams: We have an eco-system of distributed loosely coupled Services, each with access to numerous dedicated and tailored data stores.
These services collaborate through an Event-Driven Architecture (EDA) and a distributed Event Broker to deliver business services to our customers.
The main challenges are around the scalability of these services and the data stores where the vast amount of time-series data are held.
Due to the way we have architected our data, we have the ability to replay these events over history when we make changes to our products and services – we can use this historical data to analyse how devices on our networks respond to changes in circumstances, and measure what difference our new features would provide.

Q6. Why did you make the shift to NoSQL? What were you doing previously? 

Mike Williams: The challenge was the overall scale–up of the whole platform. From both a technical and a business stand-point, we needed to scale up for the next years. Based on the number of devices that our customers had in place, and the number of new customers that we were projected to win, our RDBMS was not able to cope by design. Storing time-series data is a specialist need that column-oriented data stores are better suited to than traditional RDBMS row-oriented technologies. We were (and for some customers, still are) using MS SQL Server as the only data store. NoSQL technologies also better fit our data modelling needs such as searching, where we employ the ElasticSearch NoSQL solution in a clustered manner.

Q7. What is your experience of using a NoSQL database so far? 

Mike Williams:  So far it has been very positive. We had a learning curve to go up and the technologies themselves (Cassandra and ElasticSearch) have matured greatly in the last 18 months that we have been using them.

Q8. What does the future hold for Cassandra in your organisation? How are  you using other database types as well? 

Mike Williams: We moved over to using Cassandra as our main data store for time-series data – this was because it provides better support for columnar data, as well as meeting the requirement that we had around scale. We are committed to Cassandra for the foreseeable future and so it’s future is to grow alongside our business. We also use ElasticSearch as mentioned, as well as PostgresSQL when our specific data models dictate the use of tabular, relational data.

Q9. Do you work on the cross-over with the Internet of Things? 

Mike Williams:  Indeed we do as we produce intelligent devices that communicate with our Platform over the Internet (GPRS mobile network). The devices automatically sample for pressure, temperature and other information that can then be compared across the network.

The Internet of Things is a good fit for NoSQL technologies, as you face  the challenge of dealing with huge volumes of data over time. For businesses that wish to scale their IoT implementations and make use of the data that these networks create, NoSQL solutions are a better fit than RDBMS options.
The ability to capture information from across our network has two key value propositions: the first is for our customers right now, as they can manage their water pressure more effectively. The second is the long term value that the data can provide. By being able to model and re-use historical data, we can offer much more value to customers than they can achieve by themselves. We can add new features to our platform, and demonstrate how these new features can provide greater opportunities to save money and water for customers.

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Mike Williams is the software director for i20 Water. He has 25 years of experience working for innovative high-tech companies in finance, payments, process engineering and the environment, where he has focused on solving problems and translating business challenges into tangible technical solutions. Before joining i2O Water Mike was the Chief Software Architect and head of development for Bottomline Technologies, the leading supplier of banking transaction and payments software.
Mike is also an Agile Coach and has helped transform numerous businesses as they become Agile in their approaches to business as a whole and not just software development. Mike is the organiser and founder of the Agile South Coast group.

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