News July 23, 2019

Housing Technology: Trends Driving IT Disruption

The adoption of public cloud technology in the housing sector has been slower than initially predicted, largely due to concerns around security, latency, vendor lock-in, and cost control.

The emergence of multi-cloud is set to combat these barriers by offering housing providers the ability to balance workload across edge, private cloud and public cloud environments, delivering better RoI from IT spend, enhancing IT performance and mitigating the risks associated with individual clouds.

Looking at what is driving IT disruption this year, there are four key areas – multi-cloud, AI capabilities, storage, and cybersecurity.

Multi-cloud is the latest trend in cloud adoption and differs from a more traditional hybrid cloud environment. Where a hybrid solution offers a pairing of private cloud, such as Castleton Technology’s cloud with public clouds such as Microsoft Office 365, multi-cloud uses more than one public cloud to perform different tasks. A multi-cloud environment may also combine software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions or make use of several private and public cloud solutions.

Multi-cloud reduces supplier risk

Simply by leveraging multiple cloud providers, you can ‘mix and match’, selecting the best services from several providers, while reducing the financial risks associated with being dependent on a single provider and vendor lock-in.
Organisations are also moving towards multi-cloud to mitigate the risk of localised hardware failure, such as a single datacentre going offline. It’s therefore imperative that when evaluating cloud providers, you evaluate their cloud credentials. Castleton’s investment into a cloud provision from Europe’s largest datacentre, located here in the UK ensures our customers get the security, power and network connectivity they need. As one of only four datacentres in the UK on Microsoft Azure’s premium ‘FastPath’, we can not only move workloads rapidly between our own internal datacentres but also between Castleton and other public cloud providers.

Micro-service architectures & software containerisation

A multi-cloud strategy also demands a multi-cloud IT security policy for the many software vendors you may be using. While organisations usually have only two or three key software providers, when it comes to security, they may have up to 30 different vendors. Therefore, software providers will need to architect their applications in such a way that security can be applied to their products at an infrastructural level.
Using ‘container’ technology such as Kubernetes, solutions can be wrapped into a micro-service architecture so that at any one time a single aspect of the software can be worked on and tested without affecting the entire software package.
A micro-service architecture also enables security to be applied at the network or infrastructure level, so whether your software product is migrated from on-premise to private or public cloud, it doesn’t matter because you’ve wrapped it into its own ‘container’. This means the software, including your security, is portable and can move seamlessly between multiple clouds without being affected by their individual security protocols.
The security of business-critical data is increasingly important, and this is where working with cloud providers is beneficial. While most on-premise customers don’t have the technical know-how to develop a robust cyber security and response policy, cloud providers’ SOC (security operations centre) teams manage these situations day in, day out.

The 5G & IoT revolution

AI and machine learning are also major disrupters in housing and are already delivering clear benefits. AI can reduce call centre and customer service costs, increase productivity and improve the service experience for tenants.
Currently, one of our customers is deploying the use of devices like Amazon Alexa which enable tenants to enquire about rent balances, pay rent, report repairs and raise queries. It is anticipated that this will reduce call centre costs by up to 30 percent while also expediting service. While AI is still very much an emerging concept in housing, we are seeing early adopters embracing this digital channel and we will see more and more AI-driven solutions come to the market because it will play an essential part in building smart homes for the future.
Alongside AI and machine learning is the big rollout of 5G across the UK this year. EE has already enabled many of its cell towers in the major cities while Vodafone, Three, and O2 are set to follow. The fast data speeds enabled by 5G, combined with the proliferation of industrial IoT, will impact the social housing sector, particularly around maintenance and repairs.
For example, sensors that can detect fault and predict failure in boilers or identify moisture in the loft in advance of a leak can capture data and automatically report back before any damage occurs. The benefits of this kind of ‘fix before fail’ technology is profound, especially in terms of potential cost savings, but it will also impact the planning of smart housing for the future and revolutionise the way
housing providers manage and maintain their estates.

Storage is a critical issue

With developments in AI, IoT and machine learning comes a huge increase in data gathering and data storage requirements. Data is going to be one of the key currencies moving forward, yet research
suggests businesses currently only actually use two percent of the data they’ve gathered for intelligence purposes and decision-making. At Castleton, as we bring together more information through our various solutions, we can put the data through our business intelligence solutions and identify trends. Increasingly, this will help us support our customers in making better business decisions, such as determining the optimum way to interact with tenants or identifying new opportunities for generating revenue. Storage is key because the amount of data will exponentially increase. In addition to
the data already harvested from a direct tenant interaction such as a phone call, IoT devices are now collecting data by the second and loading it into databases for trend analysis. As storage requirements
increase, so will storage costs, therefore having the right underlying infrastructure and storage solution, capable of scaling with the data generated, will be vital.

Planning ahead

At Castleton, we have already geared up for these changes. Our multi-million-pound investment in the latest data technologies, NVMe extreme performance storage, SSD solid-state storage, cold storage and,
importantly, our multi-cloud capability means we can interact with different multi-clouds as required. Castleton can make sure customers’ storage and data is where it needs to be and can seamlessly
transition from one environment to another, to and between clouds. Housing providers need to prepare too.  It’s important to think about a multi-cloud strategy and multi-service architecture to build in the flexibility you will need, together with a security policy that can be adopted by service providers and third-party suppliers to ensure that your technology stacks are secure and future-proofed.

Paul Sexton is the chief technology officer of Castleton Technology.

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