Edge capabilities beat delicate clouds for industry today, with Stratus
There is a world of difference between the concept of “digital transformation” as presented by marketing activities and the everyday, practical reality in industry.
The reality of technology in most workplaces (save the most ‘tech-based’ start-ups) is that progression in all things technological is always stepwise, considered, and based on practicalities of the situation on site.
An example of the mismatch between what you read on the internet and the daily reality of most professionals, is cloud computing. To be clear, the cloud is a location, not a method: computers run software, and that can take place anywhere, from a solar-powered server farm run by a cloud provider to a corner of an industrial facility, surrounded by noisy plant machinery.
Pushing every service that runs a facility ‘into the cloud’ is therefore not an answer for every question. Certainly, there are advantages to adopting cloud computing models, like paying for services per month, per user, or computing core. Additionally, there are pluses in maintenance (it’s someone else’s problem), and most cloud service providers will continue to add features and improvements to their offering to ensure your loyalty. In some situations, the cloud is a fantastic opportunity to move more quickly towards a transformation in business.
What’s become apparent since the much-promised “stampede to the cloud” has not transpired, is that edge computing provides a much more practical solution for many industries. These tend to be areas where multiple remote instances of facilities are present: a chain of stores, several hospitals and associated medical facilities, different elements forming a large supply chain owned by a single organization, or multiple manufacturing or engineering plants, to name but a few.
Where facilities are distributed or, by their nature, are not suitable for immediate connection to the cloud, edge computing offers a powerful way that all the benefits of technology can be gained, but without abandoning legacy equipment and infrastructure.
A case in point is in manufacturing. Here, a technology that’s now known as IoT is nothing new: machine-embedded devices have for decades allowed monitoring, attenuation and overall control by local systems. Operational technology (OT), like industrial sensors pushing data from Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, is a mature concept. As businesses expand and invest, and older systems reach end-of-life, new machines and networks of control are coming online that rely more on IT, rather than (often proprietary) OT.
Reading the trade press, we also see that so-called Industry 4.0 will bring massive increases in numbers and power of IIoT and IoT devices that can and will have game-changing consequences for even the most modest facility. But, the legacy OT facilities & systems need to continue in each deployment, and co-exist with newer networks of technology.
What new edge computing solutions are offering is effectively the kind of power available in the cloud but placed locally. These platforms are specifically designed to interface OT protocols and technologies and the most up-to-date IT. However, it’s not a simple case of sourcing a delicately manufactured box of tricks designed for installation into a climate-controlled server room. Again, like the original concept of cloud computing, the practicalities are somewhat different on the ground. Edge computing for engineering, manufacturing, logistics, supply chains, and warehousing (to name a few) must use tech with highly specific capabilities:
- Physically highly resilient, capable of operating in extremes of temperature and humidity, and able to withstand vibrations and (for want of a better term), a deal of physical abuse.
- Provide very high tolerances in failover: 99.999% (the “five nines”) uptime is required, and this is best achieved by systems designed to use internal duplication of systems, like mirrored hardware and software, self-repair, auto-diagnostics, and remote healing capabilities.
- Self-sufficient to a very high extent in disparate environments where there is no guarantee of skilled IT staff on site to “nursemaid” systems.
- Not reliant on a specific connection to centralized facilities (or cloud services), and so operate with a high degree of autonomy. That also has the advantage of not having to incur high network connection costs (or slow access speeds) to the internet, if that is a significant factor.
- Autonomous, but also be highly interconnected on-site and (when required) integrate easily with remote systems.
- Not represent a “burn down and start again” approach to technology. Backward compatibility with proven, legacy systems is mandatory.
- The capability to interface with and process data from new IIoT deployments, control systems, new software and hardware that may come further down the line (possessing open architecture and being API-compatible, in IT terms).
- Operate in an environment of absolute security, one that’s been baked into the platform, to ensure safety and mission-critical standards in every aspect.
Industry today needs the type of power and capability that’s available on tap from massive cloud computing arrays but also requires local (edge) technology that’s practical, usable, and economically viable. With suppliers of edge technologies now offering these types of solutions, the reality of Industry 4.0 and the capability to embrace new-gen IIoT are both practical, affordable, and hugely positive.
Positioned as a company that has the background and pedigree that many in industry find impressive, the Stratus ztC range provides the type of solutions that offer significant improvements in operations, all over the Asia-Pacific region. Its hardware range is suitable for extreme environments, but it runs the type of technology that would not be out of place in a server farm. To find out about the unique advantages the hardware and software bring, get in contact today with this de facto technology provider for industry.
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