Case Study: Real-Time Pedestrian Monitoring with PubNub
How we used PubNub and why it was the right platform for us
By: James Sun
Oct. 27, 2012 03:00 PM
The electromagnetic spectrum buzzes with activity. Smartphones, wireless headsets, desktop computers, in-car navigation systems, GPS-enabled gadgets, and many more devices compete for bandwidth as well as our attention. I served as the lead software developer for a team that recently completed a demonstration of a real-time, pedestrian monitoring system at Sakura Matsuri, a major street festival in Washington, D.C. We chose PubNub as our real-time messaging backbone and this article will provide some insight into how we used PubNub and why it was the right platform for us.
We approached the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., sponsors of the Sakura Matsuri Festival, the largest one-day display of Japanese culture in the United States. It's held each April as the climax of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. In years past, the festival has attracted well over 100,000 visitors in an area that covers several city blocks near the National Mall.
As the lead developer, my role on the project was to create the software architecture to support the demonstration at Sakura Matsuri. The remainder of this article will focus on how PubNub was integrated in the last three components of that architecture.
PubNub served as the primary messaging backbone for our technical architecture. I developed a simple specification for how all messages should be formatted throughout our application. Once the team committed to the spec, we were able to integrate publishers and subscribers very easily, across a variety of locations, platforms and technologies.
Figure 1: Main Web Display
The mobile web application, developed with PhoneGap, included a function which simulated a parking garage that updated festival attendees on the number of spaces available for patrons. Instead of spending our limited resources building and maintaining a fast, robust and scalable messaging infrastructure, PubNub allowed us to focus our energy on integrating several varied sources of data and building creative ways to present the information.
I explored several messaging options before settling on PubNub. My goals were to build something quickly using node.js, host it in the cloud, and support our "bursty" traffic load without getting bogged down in managing multiple servers and services. The first option I looked at was building our application on top of Socket.IO, a terrific library developed by Guillermo Rauch, a superstar in the node.js community. While Socket.IO is a solid library, we didn't have the time or development resources to build up the necessary infrastructure to host, manage and tune a server running Socket.IO.
At the time I was considering various options, the primary (commercial) competitor to PubNub was Pusher. While there is a key technical difference between the two services - PubNub uses HTTP streaming/long polling while Pusher uses websockets - for our use case, the base feature set and pricing offered by both were pretty similar. Since I had already hacked together a quick-and-dirty prototype using the tutorials, documentation and libraries provided by PubNub, it made the most sense to stick with PubNub.
One key benefit of PubNub now is the availability of data centers worldwide through its Multi-Region Deployment add-on. As we look to deploy our solution across the U.S. and internationally, having a technology partner who has a global presence, will be a critical success factor.
In the end, I was very happy my choice of PubNub. Their feature set and customer support were key factors in my success.
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