Noxxon Sat Finds Your Bus in Brazil with Google Cloud Platform

“Where’s the bus?” That question is asked millions of times each day by commuters in big cities, sometimes patiently… and sometimes not. That same question is also asked by transit companies who own the buses and who are tasked with ensuring that every vehicle is exactly where it’s supposed to be. That’s a huge challenge for every city, but São Paulo, Brazil — the world’s 10th largest metropolis — depends on its metro buses to transport its population of 20.9 million spread out over 7,943 km2 (3067 square miles). Thanks to Noxxon Sat, the company managing the metropolitan transport, its licensees and passengers can monitor the 6,000 buses, day and night, through applications based on Google Cloud Platform.

Challenge

Since 2007, Noxxon Sat Telecomumicações has offered geo-tracking hardware for São Paulo’s buses, based on installing and maintaining hardware modules with GPS receivers and cellular data transmitters placed in each vehicle. The data from each bus radio transceiver was delivered from the cellular data network to Noxxon Sat’s data center, and from there was shared with its customers, the city’s transit providers, who processed the data with third-party software.

About five years ago, several of Noxxon Sat’s transit customers asked for a complete solution for bus location data processing and analytics. In response, the company began designing the solution, but ran into issues, explains Fábio Amaral, IT Director, particularly around building out a data center to run the software and provide an interface for the bus companies. A big part of the problem was capacity planning: “We needed to know how many computers we’d need in our data center,” he says.

Beyond the hardware, much of the software that Noxxon Sat needed would be expensive and time-consuming to create or license, such as databases, analytics engines, mapping engines and user-interface systems. Scalability was also a big concern. Noxxon Sat had no idea how many bus companies would want to use its end-to-end solution; some might wish to stick with their older third-party solution. Therefore, Noxxon Sat needed to be able to start small and grow elastically as more customers signed up for the service.

Communications infrastructure was an additional concern, adds Amaral. Internet access in Brazil, even in São Paulo, the nation’s biggest city, was not robust and reliable enough to host an on-site data center with the uptime transit companies would require in order to have confidence in the mission-critical service.

Solution

Noxxon Sat decided to build and host its bus-tracking system in the cloud, thereby addressing the capital investment, scalability and connectivity issues. Amaral and his team evaluated several cloud platforms, and chose Google Cloud Platform because of the minimal day-to-day administration required by the 60-person company’s small IT staff. For example, on competing platforms the process of configuring and scaling virtual machines was complicated, but “Google makes it easy and automatic,” Amaral says.

The foundations of the Noxxon Sat online tracking system is Google App Engine for processing the telemetry data being received from the buses and Google Cloud Datastore to hold current and historic data retained for trend analysis. Currently, Cloud Datastore holds 13 terabytes of aggregate data for Noxxon Sat.

App Engine also hosts the browser-based user interface that transit companies access. In addition, Noxxon Sat uses Google BigQuery to provision an analytic dashboard for its customers, and offers real-time map overlays using the Google Map APIs.

The number of App Engine virtual machines processing the vehicle telemetry scales automatically, says Amaral, ranging from 140-150 VMs at peak telecommuting hours to 100 VM off-peak to only half a dozen late at night, when few buses are running. Google’s autoscaling functionality saves Noxxon Sat significant money, he says. With other cloud providers, administrators would need to manually launch, provision and close virtual machines, which would probably not be as efficient, and would also require additional round-the-clock IT staffing.

Results

The Noxxon Sat real-time bus monitoring and analytics platform went online in 2012, and Amaral is delighted with the reliability of Google Cloud Platform, which is hosted in data centers in the United States. “The service level agreement called for 99.99% uptime, and that has been exceeded,” he says.

He also enjoys the dynamic scalability. “If we have to double or triple the number of buses because we close a really big contract, we don’t have to be worried because Google will just scale. We won’t need to make any upfront investment,” Amaral says. He also estimates that using Google Cloud Platform, ongoing operational IT costs are at least 20% lower than if Noxxon Sat had to host the application in a traditional data center.

“The biggest result is that App Engine made the project possible. Without it, this project wouldn’t have been feasible.”

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