The edge computing paradigm is here and the industrial space is well poised to take advantage of it. There is a big drive in data creation and processing at the edge due to higher digitalization of interactions and instrumentation of assets at distributed touchpoints. There is also increased demand for reduced latency and local data processing at the edge because digital business solutions increasingly need more data distribution outside data centers. Lastly, teams now deem it critical to have data security, quality and lifecycle management at the edge for local workloads and governance practices. The bottom-line: the OT space has been underserved and we’re seeing fast changing dynamics at the edge, with a continued focus on simplification, efficiency and security.
Prepare to scale to edge
To meet these challenges effectively, IX leaders need to build a strategy where the need for edge computing capability is made explicit for the long-term. To maximize edge deployment success, they need to allocate OT and IT personnel in the organizations and train them in modern edge management capabilities. At a high level, an edge management strategy should unlock these capabilities for the OT administrators:
1. Higher productivity and efficiency
The OT administrators should be able to automatically discover and identify all edge devices in the plant. Centralized zero touch edge device deployment is key here. Once all the edge devices are registered, OT administrators will be able to remotely manage the entire fleet of devices for software maintenance --- without having to send anyone on-site. Moreover, they will be able to remotely deploy apps on these edge devices for targeting different OT use cases in a simple and scalable manner.
2. Better manageability and flexibility
OT administrators should be able to address simple and complex use cases with a single edge management solution. They should be able to bring their own hardware, apps and cloud provider of choice for end-to-end edge management. Obviously, this should encompass a single pane of visibility for management of edge devices and apps.
3. Excellent security posture
Security should not be an afterthought but pervasively visible throughout the solution. For scalability, the edge should be protected from cyberattacks with industry standard security policies, hardware level keys and app-level firewalls. The edge devices should be secured with a zero-trust security paradigm, while providing integrated visibility, audit and compliance.
Edge management solution Pillars
To empower OT administrators at the right level, IX leaders should look for a comprehensive edge management solution that can deliver on the abovementioned capabilities. We look upon these as the key pillars of a solid edge management solution, without which you cannot – rather, should not – live without.
1. Edge device management
To begin with, a robust edge management solution should onboard edge devices with single touch provisioning. While provisioning can be a multi-layered and painful process, all that complexity needs to be simplified to offer seamless authentication and pre-certified hardware. Once provisioned, the edge computers should be able to connect easily to the management plane. Each device should be configurable with a pre-defined personality template – something that could be shared across multiple devices. Finally, once the devices are provisioned and configured, it’s important to view the telemetry data per device and track the memory. CPUs and storage utilization to optimize operations.
2. Fleet management
Once the edge devices are ready to be individually managed by the edge management solution, the ability to manage fleets of devices with flexibility and security is next. OT staff should be able to set personalities for similar machines for consistency and security, achieve security with zero local access or configuration changes, and control app instances per device. At the end of the day, edge intelligence is delivered through apps on edge devices, so app management is a big part of edge management. The edge management solution should provide the ability to deploy app schedules at will: set rules for which apps can be deployed to the fleet, track versions for each immutable app, orchestrate seamless cutover between app versions, choose deployment hours per node, and catch up on productivity even when network connectivity is lost intermittently.
3. Private/public app marketplace
An app marketplace is key to running business logic at the edge and can be a strategic differentiator for industrial operations. Diving deeper into this, OT administrators should be able to publish either public or private apps (bring your own or partner apps within the organization) and deploy them at containerized/virtual machines /cluster-aware environments within the edge computers. Public edge apps can be curated but the edge management solution vendor, while the private edge apps can be created and deployed in containers or virtual machines based on internal company apps. OT administrators should be able to control visibility of these apps to authorized users in the organization and allow them to share with others as needed.
While the edge expands the impact of IX initiatives, it also creates opportunities for cyberattacks. There have been several supply chain crises created from a vulnerable attack surface in industrial plants. The answer is to achieve implementation of a zero-trust security model for securing edge devices at the silicon level. The devices should be onboarded using cryptographic hardware root of trust, and only configurable from a central location – local configuration should be disabled to help prevent tampering. The edge devices must have security profiles, role/policy-based access control, and distributed firewalls at app levels to segment network traffic. At a minimum, all data in transit or rest should be encrypted at an end-to-end level. The security capabilities should be complete with integrated visibility, audit and compliance.
5. Open Standards
Adhering to an open standard creates wider possibilities for building on top of the latest industry conventions and reduces situations where you may have to re-wire the solution architecture. In closed, proprietary systems, users (and businesses) are stuck with whatever the single provider determines is best. In general, open industry standards help improve the quality of products, creating more opportunities to innovate. These open standards enable organizations to avoid interoperability issues within their diverse infrastructures and propelling their continued growth, innovation and customer acceptance. A robust edge management solution must embody the open standards to allow management of any kind of device, on any CPU architecture, on any OS.
Any industrial organization taking advantage of a robust edge management solution described above will benefit tremendously. First, the IX initiatives will see faster time to value overall by reducing administrative and scheduling delays when sending personnel on-site to manage edge devices across sites. Second, OT administrators will experience enhanced productivity, repeatability and elimination of manual errors while managing the edge devices. Third, due to a centralized edge management solution with a low, capped and predictable cost structure, the total cost of ownership and implementation will be reduced at an organization level. Fourth, IX leaders will be able to build best of breed solutions on top of a secure and open architecture. Finally, IX leaders will be able to scale edge IX initiatives with innovative use cases across lines, plants and sites with existing resources.
Succeed with a proven industrial leader
As you explore edge computing use cases for your organization, you’re best positioned for success if you partner with a proven industrial leader with credible OT experience around industrial edge management. Rockwell Automation has been at the forefront of industrial innovations since 1903 -- with a focus on shaping iX for discrete or process manufacturing companies for the last several decades. As a large-scale manufacturer, we have successfully embraced DX across our 20 global facilities that produce 400,000 SKUs – accelerating our time to market, cutting lead times by half, and improving annual productivity to 4 to 5 percent. Our comprehensive approach to end-to-end business strategy and technology consulting services is integral to delivering the results that matter. Our integrated consulting approach not only helps you realize your top business objectives, but also scaling your DX impact with future use cases.