water pipes

DC takes underground pipe inspections to the cloud

The launch of Microsoft’s Azure Government Marketplace allows its government customers to more quickly deploy applications that could, for example, improve a city’s underground pipe inspections.

With the marketplace, Azure customers can click on these applications and seamlessly deploy them through their Azure subscriptions. Microsoft’s Jason Zander, corporate vice president for Azure, Cloud and Enterprise, referred to it as “click and deploy-level functionality” during the announcement on Oct. 25 at the Microsoft Government Cloud Forum in Washington, D.C.

Being able to rapidly spin up applications through Azure could make operations more efficient, just as platform-as-a-service solutions have done for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.

“The ability to cut down more than half the time of deployment of an application as a service -- it has drastically changed our business,” Joseph Edwards, the Water and Sewer Authority's director of infrastructure and operations, said at the Microsoft event. “PaaS makes it so that, literally, we can turn [an application service] on and use it.”

D.C. Water provides drinking water, treats and collects wastewater and operates more than 1,300 miles of pipes and 1,900 miles of sanitary and combined sewers. The authority is currently using Esri GIS services in the Microsoft Azure cloud to better manage and inspect underground water and sewer lines.

Before leveraging these capabilities, the crews had to send a little camera -- “a robot-type device” -- into the pipelines to look for breaks or tears, Edwards explained. After recording, the camera’s video was uploaded to the network, then the crew headed back the office to watch it to look for breaks. They would then have to send someone to find the exact break in the line to repair. “You could imagine it takes a long time to do that,” Edwards said.

When Azure became an option, D.C. Water started recording directly to Azure. “We can take all these videos and put them somewhere where they’re accessible,” Edwards said. And since D.C. Water was already using Esri GIS services, it was able to take the videos that were sitting in Azure and plot the pipe breaks on a map so that the crews could actually see their location in relation to the underground pipelines. “Now they can stream that video right on site, right where they are,” Edwards said, rather than going back and forth to the office to watch the video and then locate the breaks.  The technology has greatly sped up repair times.

In the future, D.C. Water is considering predictive analytics that could detect failing pipes before they start leaking. For example, analytics software could use data such as the pipe’s age, its previous failures and seasonal conditions to let crews know when they should expect complications.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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