Poised to go all-in on edge

Edge computing is a mesh network of micro-data centers that process or store critical data locally while also working in concert with a central data center or cloud-storage repository.

By Kevin Parker November 3, 2019

If there is cloud, there must be edge. Otherwise use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is limited to cases where latency and bandwidth constraints don’t come into play.

Edge computing can be described as a mesh network of micro-data centers that process or store critical data locally while also working in concert with a central data center or cloud-storage repository.  A sophisticated global market of single-use and multi-purpose devices for industrial edge computing has developed rapidly.

Historically speaking, Maynard, Mass.-based Stratus Technologies’ products often were compared to industrially hardened PCs but its latest solution, ztC Edge, is better described as a virtualized, automated platform for industrial edge environments.

“Stratus today is in an interesting space,” said Jason Andersen, VP of business line management, Stratus Technologies. “Our users are collecting data and deploying analytics in the service of applications. Our edge server is a platform or environment that manages operations technology. It encompasses automation technologies while translating that world into that of cloud service providers like Amazon or Microsoft.”

[subhead]Quantification as justification

Stratus recently released results of a survey of engineers and others involved in edge connectivity, process control and operations computing environments.

The edge computing trend report for North America finds 46% of survey respondents agreed that lack of education on if, when and how to use edge technology and applications is the foremost barrier to edge-computing deployment. At the same time, 53% of survey respondents say their companies are actively evaluating or planning edge computing implementations. Meanwhile, roughly one-third still need a plan.

Experts say the survey respondents look forward to a computing environment that blends traditional closed-loop control with IT-world technologies like virtualization and data-hungry applications that make use of analytics.

“The traditional DCS — or PLC with SCADA and historian — is becoming obsolete fast…. Instead, plant devices will be provisioned and maintained centrally. We engineer it in the cloud, register the edge device, bind them together and deploy,” said Tim Sowell, director, digital portfolio strategy, Aveva, a Stratus partner.

Centralized skills sharing

It’s the ability to provision and maintain devices centrally that should allow companies to move forward with edge computing, despite a perceived lack of personnel with the requisite advanced skill sets.

While 55% of survey respondents believe control, process or automation engineering expertise are core to edge computing success, near 30% to 40% believe skills related to systems architectures, computer networking, cloud computing, database security, data engineering, data science and application development are also needed.

Whether applied to upgrade SCADA deployments or in the application of statistics-based analytics, the introduction of edge computing may be the most significant plant-floor advancement in industrial computing since the introduction of SCADA 30 years ago. In fact, 43% of respondents to the Stratus survey see edge computing as “a great leap forward for process and production environments.”

The result will be disruption of the industrial computing space, said Dave Laurello, Stratus CEO, “By general-purpose computers in the virtual mode, virtual PCs. It’s going to happen because the economic value is so compelling that it can’t be resisted.”

This article appears in the IIoT for Engineers supplement for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media