Head of IT at City of Pforzheim / 24 January 2019 / 5 minute read
In Pforzheim, there are two things that are an essential part of our DNA. The first is watchmaking. Our first watch and jewellery factory was established in the ruins of an old orphanage all the way back in 1767. The industry was abandoned at one point, but it was revived in the 1900s to great success. During the 1920s, watchmaking thrived due to the popularity of wrist watches—an innovative new concept at the time.
The second essential part of our DNA is how seriously we take our IT infrastructure, which we make a proactive effort to upgrade every ten years.
Once a decade, we make a complete renewal of our network at the local government level. We start with a full design and then brainstorm the functionality that will not only address current needs, but will also better prepare us for future demands.
As the head of IT for the local government Pforzheim, part of my job is to oversee our IT overhaul. Determining our future goals and our needs over the next five to ten years is always one of my top priorities.
Watchmaking and IT overhauls may seem unrelated at first glance, but in my opinion they overlap significantly. Both watchmaking and our infrastructure renewal are all about efficiency. We need to be as systematic as possible in order to keep up with the fast-paced modern world around us. Efficiency is something the German people are known for.
Whether you're talking about our watches, our jewellery, our cars, or our technology, Germans believe that things should be done the right way the first time around—and continue to perform well.
A Lack of Insight and Flexibility
With an area of about 10,000 hectares in size, Pforzheim has a population of roughly 130,000 people. Even though we've been around for hundreds of years, we've worked hard to maintain our reputation as a very innovative, modern city. A large part of this has to do with our infrastructure.
Take what we're doing at the local government level, for example. We have more than 8,000 different devices spread out across 2,400 users. That breaks down to about 700 mobile devices and 1,000 printers over 140 different buildings and 40 schools. Maintaining something of that size and scale is always a challenge, to say nothing of how difficult updating it can become.
Our IT performance impacts both my team and our end users in a couple of key areas. The first has to do with the reliability and the readability of the network. When a network does not work well, it comprises all of the applications and the essential connectivity for end users. If we're going to live up to the tradition established by our watchmaking industry, we need to be on the cutting edge. Our technology needs to be just as sophisticated as our watches, if not more.
The other key factor is flexibility. If a user moves from one building to another, we should be able to move their identity and policy along with them. All of this should happen automatically, because their identity with all these relevant policies is complete from the start.
Pforzheim had a powerful infrastructure, but it was admittedly lacking in a few key areas. We could see all of the devices that were connected to the network, but we didn’t have control over all security parameters and standards for those devices. It made it needlessly complicated to identify and solve security problems. We had no way to isolate traffic or networks to create a robust layer of security. It wasn’t an ideal solution for anyone, but particularly not for our users.
Another key area where our infrastructure was lacking was with insights. We required the ability to look into the network to understand the communication flows and connections.
None of this is to say that our infrastructure was bad. Far from it. We had many connected devices and the network was very fast and reliable. It's just that we didn’t have a simple view that let us easily identify problems within our network.
Things were going well, but they needed to get better. That, in essence, is what the 10-year renewal project is all about.
For this project, a major change is moving away from a classic network infrastructure and toward a network fabric. We searched the market and identified which companies could provide us with the solution we needed, while also offering the flexibility to isolate the network and get greater insights into our devices.
A Single Solution
Our search for the right solution led us to Cisco, and their robust, long-term partnership up to this point has been as meaningful as any I've had in my career. I was instantly attracted to the complete Cisco ecosystem, which allowed us to condense most of the Cisco production units into a single DNA Center dashboard.
We went from almost no visibility across our network to suddenly being able to see everything and manage it all from a single point of access. This is one of the most important aspects for our network: We can analyze, manage, control, and automate all from a simple screen.
Most critically were the fabric systems that Cisco offered, with Cisco DNA acting as the centerpiece. We found a solution that would give us the flexibility to isolate the network and see all the metadata we needed. Simultaneously, it would guarantee we had the fabric we required for future project networks—allowing us to get ready for whatever our needs were as they continued to grow and evolve over time. This new implementation also required fewer resources necessary to run the networks, which was a welcome advantage.
Simplified Identity Management
We're still in the early stages of this project. This year was all about decision making: finding the best resources to address our needs. Next year is all about action: making the moves that will allow us to act on our newfound insights.
Our current focus is on replacing all of our aging switches and other assets, and getting those new security layers implemented. After that, we will begin to integrate more devices into the fabric.
With our new wireless infrastructure, it will allow us to make a significant leap forward in security, particularly identity management. Through Cisco Identity Services Engine and Cisco SDA, setting up profiles and managing everything couldn’t be simpler.
All told, it's been a wonderful experience to work with Cisco. Likewise, it's been exciting for us to have the opportunity to build a next-generation network together. We'll be the first customer in Germany at the local government level to deploy this type of technology. Moving forward, we will act as the best reference for other cities and local government institutions. To that end, Pforzheim's success is Germany's success.
Pforzheim's history is as rich as it is long. Our innovations in jewellery and watchmaking have earned us the nickname "The Golden City." Although the technology may have changed dramatically over the years, the simple goals behind them have remained steadfast: We value efficiency and reliability above all else.
These are the things that have led to Pforzheim becoming a jewel of the past. Now, thanks to these advancements, and thanks to Cisco, we're in an excellent position to become the jewel of the future as well.
Head of IT