Edge Borderless. Edge computing in a state of transition
There will come a time when there will no longer be any conversations about IoT or the Edge. It will seize to be a hot topic of discussion and will blend into our lives just as the mobile phone did and the internet. Jim White, CTO at IoTech, a three-year-old software products company, reveals just what he means when he says that the edge is in a state of transition. Abigail Opiah reports.
As computing resources and IoT networking devices become more powerful, the ability to manage vast amounts of data near the edge will mean infrastructure and operations teams are required to manage more advanced data workloads, while keeping pace with business needs.
Major tech players like Microsoft and Cisco are revealing their plans to collaborate on technologies targeting IoT and edge computing. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and the sector has a lot to give.
“There was a lot of hype around IoT and edge computing – all of the analysts were forecasting the billions of sensors we were going to have out there and therefore the terabytes and terabytes of data that those sensors were going to be producing,” says White.
“While we are seeing some of that manifest, I think companies are still trying to get to grips with what to do with all those sensors and what to do with all of that data? They are starting to form a strategy.
“We are starting to see companies get real about turning technology into a return on investment for the company, either by saving money or by making money.
“How do we look at this long term? If you all of a sudden have all these sensors pointing the data at the cloud, you are going to be disappointed by the size of your cloud bill after the first month. You will need a strategy on how the cloud is going to be used, where you are going to take advantage of it and what the long-term strategy is for where your product set is going.”
IoTech is a vendor-neutral company that try to write its software so that it can run on any hardware operating system.
“We are trying to be agnostic with regard to what is out there at the edge in terms of compute power. We work through a set of channel partners to make our products available,” says White.
“We found that the best way to present IoT and edge solutions is through the vertical market players out there, like Dell, Intel, Accenture, HP etc – working through them and their channels to get our products to market.
“Our focus has been primarily on industrial IoT and industrial edge computing. We are seeing that our solutions are starting to work their way into some other areas like retail and potentially things like health and consumer markets, but our focus has been industrial IoT.”
The company’s five-year plan is to get its products into design wins, meaning that as a software platform, it is not the entire solution.
“We are a part of a much larger solution and in an edge kind of use case, you need sensor collection. You need lots of physical hardware out there sensing the physical environment. You need a set of hardware out there that serves at the edge compute platform where we are going to run on,” he adds.
“You have to have networks set up and places where the data is going to go. You need a whole infrastructure potentially backed by things like cloud or on-prem servers that have to be in place. We are a part of a much bigger set of solution.
“Our goal has always been working with many of those channel partners, working to get our product in as a design win, and be a part of a larger solution that incorporates all those pieces.”
Opportunities and challenges at the edge
The future of computing lives on the edge. With the advent of 5G and the exponential growth of connected devices, more data is generated and processed at the edge.
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“The opportunities are ones that are just endless – if you look at all the various use cases – I don’t see where our lives are not going to be impacted by IoT or edge computing in the near future. We may not recognise it, but it is going to happen,” White reveals.
“We’re going to see that things like our doctors having the ability to provide us better care because they have more information about our bodies when we walk into the doctor’s office.
“Houses and cities are much smarter and therefore offer us much better service when they understand what’s going on and can divert resources or can lower the cost of resources when we’re trying to get our lives accomplished.
“There is not a part of our lives that aren’t going to be impacted, but there are certainly challenges and I think those are the things that we’re trying to wrestle with today because the challenges are evolving.”
White mentions that a few years ago, the sector was focused on just getting the data collected, cleaned up and available so that decisions could be made – that was the biggest challenge.
“Now we are beyond those challenges and we are working on challenges like security or what we call management,” he adds.
“When you look at particular use cases or particular vertical spaces, sometimes the challenges can be a little bit more acute.
“In healthcare, for example, security is going to be one that is utmost. You just cannot have personal and healthcare data out there on the internet without some precautions.
“Then there are others where you are looking at the oil and gas sector where the remoteness of the oil and gas fields and the connectivity or the lack of connectivity creates challenges.
“There are some unique challenges to specific verticals and specific use cases, but there are many widespread challenges.”
In regards to markets that are leading in IoT and edge deployment, White says that when you look at the leaders as opposed to the ones that are following, it is usually based on demand – where there is a good return on investment and solutions are a little bit easier to put together.
In November 2019, IoTech raised $7.5 million (£5.8 million) in investment funding after winning the backing of global computing giant Dell. The company revealed that it intends to significantly expand its channel support across the US, Europe and the Asia Pacific region.
Andrew Foster, product director and one of the founders of the company says: “We’ve been involved in middleware technology, distributed computing, particularly with industrial IoT and edge computing and we saw a gap in the market.
“There was a plethora of possible technologies, but there was a lot of fragmentation in the market with respect to choices for users and different technologies.
“We saw the need to take an open architecture approach. We thought that the open IoT edge platform approach would fill around the build based around an open-source technology. We saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it.”
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