Sunday, 20th September 2020

From Edge to Enterprise

Edge computing is taking the sector by storm, notably for its capabilities in creating new ways to maximise operational efficiency in addition to improving safety and ‘always on’ performance and availability. By Jeremy Kivi, Senior Portfolio Marketing Manager at AVEVA.

For many, edge computing is credited as the technology that is driving the automation of many core business processes. From speed and latency to cost savings, the edge is bringing greater scalability and reliability to industrial and enterprise organisations that is supported by the cloud.

Alongside the flexibility of the edge comes a degree of complexity, so it is often adopted as part of a wider enterprise solution. From IIoT architectures to cloud-driven remote edge management, each component of an ‘edge to enterprise’ solution plays an integral part in daily operations. However, many organisations still fail to recognise that it is the seamless integration of these edge computing elements that form a holistic overview of an operations lifecycle and, in turn, can improve visibility and agile scalability.

The edge as we currently know it is already bringing demonstratable benefits, alongside several challenges. But as it undergoes increasing levels of collaboration with the cloud, what is edge computing set to bring in 2020 and beyond?

Enabling different architectures

Like with any new technology, increased adoption of the edge will bring the introduction of new hardware that is unfamiliar to many organizations. In addition to this comes a range of new communication protocols that take time, and often, significant investment in staff training and the implementation of new resources.

The key for optimising edge technologies is embracing its flexibility to communicate with different architectures and hardware. Given our current balance between new and innovative technologies and legacy hardware systems, we’re likely to see the big-name equipment manufacturers such as Schneider Electric, Siemens and Allen Bradley support customers bridge the software gap brought by the edge and cloud infrastructure.

Data insights and new applications

Edge computing is both praised and characterised by its flexibility and its use in a number of industries. Organisations are able to bring cloud capabilities to the very edge in order to reduce latency and can do so in a number of customisable ways – either by using existing hardware to run custom software that emulates the cloud, or by extending the public cloud locations.

However, businesses are only going to find edge computing effective if they are as effective with the data that they source from it. For example, with tools in the cloud such as AI and machine learning, users can add context to data and identify both positive and negative trends. For example, if sensors at the edge are able to record the number of times a valve opens or closes, and compare that to the number of times a valve can usually open and close until failure, the edge data might be able to warn managers when it’s time to change the valve before it fails.

It’s important that all data is useful. Operators already risk data overload, where alarms are missed or ignored, or where trends aren’t followed because no one knows where they might be leading. Data must be used in a meaningful way, using the tools available, to offer insights that weren’t available before. Furthermore, these same organisations – whether in the enterprise or in industry – must understand that edge computing and all associated data underpins a number of additional technologies that are making their way into the working environment.

For example, predictive maintenance is not a product that can be plucked off a shelf, nor is it a set of solutions. In fact, it is a goal, and the ability to do computing on the edge is an enabler for technologies like predictive maintenance. This is because the edge effectively draws together a range of data sources – both new and historical – that allow predictive maintenance systems to do their job. This year, we’re likely to see more businesses recognise that the edge cannot be implemented for technology’s sake, but as a way to successfully implement other technological innovations that may be desperately required.

Increased collaboration

As the centralised point for IIoT technologies, the demands placed on the edge are set to grow. With these demands come complex decisions that need to be made and often, a degree of uncertainty. Because of this, we’re likely to see an uptake in the number of industry and enterprise organisations choosing to work with vendor partners to then adopt customised, packaged solutions.

The flexibility and bandwidth of the cloud, and subsequently the edge, means the maintenance and utilisation of these systems will force organisations to outsource for support. As the edge will become a critical infrastructure that will interact with masses of data, organisations of all types will have to be increasingly careful with their security measures as the edge relies on constant data movement and interaction with the cloud. With a third-party support, any risk is greatly minimised and controlled.

An edge revolution

In 2020, we are set to see many organisations use the edge interchangeably with cloud, and are likely to do so in a vendor partnership. With this relation, we are likely to witness a market shift whereby the definition of what constitutes the ‘edge’ will become more refined.

Business needs are now reaching the point where there is an expectation that most systems will incorporate some level of edge computing if they are online. Now, companies must look into how they can participate if they are set to keep up with the ‘edge to enterprise’ revolution.

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