July 15, 2019
Sponsored by Dell
The general IoT environment has transformed since I joined the Dell Technologies OEM & IoT team more than three years ago. While many of my colleagues focus on specific vertical industries like manufacturing, telco or marine, my role is broader. As a result, I bring a different perspective–the ability to take a 360-degree view of what’s happening across multiple industries.
So, three years later, what new developments am I seeing? Are there common trends? Is one vertical leading the way? How is IoT developing from an edge and infrastructural perspective?
The Rise of Edge & On-Prem Computing
First things first: I believe that the role of edge computing has radically transformed. Three years ago, edge devices were there to collect and aggregate the data before analysis and storage in the cloud. Fast forward to today: Now, computing and real-time analytics are increasingly being managed at the edge.
Why this transformation? There are three main factors: cost, latency and security. Take the case of the autonomous vehicle, the ultimate IoT device. It has to make split-second decisions and adjustments, based on information received from an array of sophisticated sensors, responding in real-time to pedestrians, traffic, road signs, and potential hazards like detours and accidents. If you’re the driver of the oncoming car or crossing the road with your kids, would you really want the data to go to the cloud first for analysis? The same holds true for a production line in a factory. You cannot afford for the line to be down while you wait around for analysis to return from the cloud. Hence, the inevitable rise of edge and on-prem computing.
Of course, the cloud will continue to be an important element in the overall IoT picture but it’s not going to be the much touted all-singing, all-dancing solution. Increasingly, I see a hybrid model emerge. In this new-look world, edge analytics and on-prem computing will do the heavy lifting with key outputs sent to the cloud for visualization and backup. In this way, I see the edge to the cloud operating together in harmony as part of a continuum.
2. It’s A KOTS World
Our mantra has always been COTS–namely, we use commercial, off-the-shelf compute building blocks, based on open standards that can be configured, customized and pre-qualified. That core principle has not changed.
However, our IoT partners provide very valuable resources and services. To enable them to do their magic, they need a variation of this model–what one of my colleagues, Jeff Van Horn, aptly calls “KOTS,” or “kinda-off-the-shelf” commercial building blocks. I would characterize KOTS as the best of both worlds and one that is particularly suited to the IoT landscape.
Leveraging Existing Infrastructure Through Open Standards
Of course, many of our customers, particularly in manufacturing, already have intelligent and high cost compute environments in place. What I find interesting is how they’re now becoming increasingly savvy in leveraging and reinvigorating that investment.
In the past, these customers would have been locked into paying annual licensing fees to vendors for additional services, like predictive maintenance on a rolling production line. Now, using a standard rather than a vendor-specific compute device, customers are in the driving seat, controlling what they want to add and how they go about it. An open-standards edge device also delivers flexibility in terms of what can be connected. Again, I am increasingly seeing a hybrid approach, where customers are connecting different PLC controllers into a central gateway device.
The good news is that whether you have existing Honeywell, Siemens, Alan-Bradley or Schneider specialist hardware, you don’t have to rip and replace $2 million worth of manufacturing equipment. Even better, you’re no longer tied to proprietary standards and worried about how it will all connect and work together. Thanks to edge computing and open platforms from companies like Dell Technologies OEM & IoT, customers can integrate all the elements together and future proof their investment.
It’s no surprise that manufacturing and industrial automation industries, like mining, continue to lead the way in IoT. These industries have a long and proud tradition in sensor technology and automation; IoT is simply the next logical step on a progressive journey.
However, we’re also seeing machine builders increasingly embrace IoT. What do I mean by machine builders? Effectively, companies that provide their customers with an integrated turnkey solution, consisting of our hardware and their IP. Take the spectrometry world, where you have specialist lab instruments, packaged with proprietary software, sitting on either a Dell Technologies’ edge device or an appliance server, with the software and hardware working together to measure the chemical, physical and biological components of liquids like blood, beer or wine. (Quick aside, for those of you who are wine connoisseurs, the good news is that this will help the vineyard scientifically determine the optimum time to pick the grapes, but more on this later).
Industry Collaboration Is The Glue
Of course, challenges remain, and as a leader in the industry, it’s important that we help make the IoT journey easier. Back in 2017, we helped launch the EdgeX Foundry, an open source project within the Linux Foundation. This was all about developing an open framework for interoperability between IoT devices and applications. The project has seen a steady increase in the number of backing organizations and developers contributing across the globe, in addition to our own ongoing inputs. This has certainly helped provide answers to many of the open IoT questions.
Maybe you run marathons to keep fit or relax? Well, if you compare an IoT project to a decent run, the EdgeX Foundry will bring you within sight of the finishing line, delivering all the core building blocks you need. However, if the project is complex, you may need a bit of a leg-up for the last few miles. This is exactly why we invested over $1 billion in IoT research in 2017, and have provided funding to new companies like Nexiot that specialize in smart sensors, big data algorithms and ultra-low-power embedded technology.
In summary, the big trends I see are edge computing, KOTS, open standards, flexibility and industry collaboration. While there have been huge advances over the last three years, I believe that the best is yet to come. A picture paints a thousand words, so watch this space for a series of follow up blogs focused on interesting customer IoT use cases.
This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship.
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