What is Edge Computing, and Why Should You Care?

What is Edge Computing, and Why Should You Care?

Not all smart devices must use the cloud. See how edge performs hosting, storage, computing and analysis and pushes aggregate data to a centralized plant.

From Stratus Technologies  

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the report, “Industrial Control Systems and Edge Computing: Enabling an Operational Architecture for Applications and Analytics.” Download the full paper for more information about smart manufacturing’s production metrics and impact on IIoT architecture; how traditional architectures transform to digitization; the new structure of operational architectures; how edge devices can act as virtual hosts for apps and analytics; and case studies from different industries using edge computing.

Computing infrastructure is an ever-changing landscape of technol­ogy advancements. Current changes affect the way companies deploy smart manufacturing systems to make the most of advancements. 

The rise of edge computing capabilities coupled with tradi­tional industrial control system (ICS) architectures provides increasing levels of flexibility. In addition, time-synchronized applications and analytics augment, or in some cases minimize, the need for larger Big Data operations in the cloud, regardless of cloud premise.

Current research indicates that Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies support highly distributed intelligence. This includes distribution of hosting and computing such that companies can implement a truly distributed control and information system. The result is real-time benefit and loss avoidance that improves production efficiencies and mitigates risk while segregating and federating production data and analytics to their appropriate constituencies.

Establishing an operational architecture with the strategic flexibility to use distributed computing and virtualized servers creates a production environment to optimize people, process and technology in a scalable manner, without the need to lock into a specific vendor or solution construct.

However, as many operations will rely on legacy systems to fit into an overall architecture, virtual­ized hosts, data management and open API tools will be needed for a future-proof production environment.

What is Edge Computing?

Consolidation and the centralized nature of cloud computing has proven cost-effective and flexible, but the rise of the IIoT and mobile computing has put a strain on networking band­width. Ultimately, not all smart devices need to use cloud comput­ing to operate. In some cases, architects can — and should — avoid the back and forth. Edge computing could prove more efficient in some areas where cloud computing operates.

Depending on organizational viewpoint, edge infrastructure can be complementary to or inclusive of level 1 or 2 control and information layers of the production process. An organization can define industrial edge as an extension of cloud activities or as an extension of control activities based on requirements of speed, data structure, volume and velocity. [CLICK CHART TO ENLARGE]

Edge computing permits data processing closer to where it's created (i.e., motors, pumps, generators or other sensors), reducing the need to transfer that data back and forth between the cloud.

Think of edge computing in manufacturing as a network of mi­cro data centers capable of hosting, storage, computing and analysis on a localized basis while pushing aggregate data to a centralized plant or enterprise data center, or even the cloud (private or public, on-premise or off) for further analysis, deeper learning, or to feed an artificial intelligence (AI) engine hosted elsewhere.

There’s no distinct hardware definition of industrial edge comput­ing; it’s in the eye of the beholder as to how much compute pow­er or data response may be required in a given application or across a specific production process.

Dedicated servers with virtualization can host apps with significant footprints, store related production data, communicate to the cloud, and perform onboard analytics in the footprint of an appliance, server or PC in a PLC rack. 

Above all else, industrial firms must agree internally on standards of functionality required for various processes and then on the ap­propriate hardware and vendor(s) to fulfill the need. When refer­ring to edge, it will almost always be on-premise or at-asset to avoid over-generalizing the IT infrastructure at the plant level.

Dynamics of Using Edge Computing

Edge computing can sit at the control level or above it, providing real-time responses and structured cost benefits.

Our take on operational architecture based on the IIoT views analytics in the same context as all other applications. It also supports the concept of cloud-to-edge without implying any difference between them. The definition of edge leans toward a hardware-centric view of the enterprise: Any system that’s below a plant data center is considered part of the edge. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s excellent guidance to further the discussion about operational architecture with distributed applications.

Edge is in the Eye of the Beholder

Depending on organizational viewpoint, edge infrastructure can be complementary to or inclusive of level 1 or 2 control and information layers of the production process. An organization can define industrial edge as an extension of cloud activities or as an extension of control activities based on requirements of speed, data structure, volume and velocity.

Organizational agreement on location, such as an unmanned pumping station, capabilities, use cases and desired outcomes is critical before conducting any pilots or scalable implementations.

Edge Adoption Lags the Cloud

Edge is still in early stage adoption, but one thing is clear: Edge devices are subject to large-scale investments from cloud suppliers to offload bandwidth and latency issues caused by an explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) data in both industrial and commercial applications.

Edge soon will likely increase in adoption where users have questions about how or if the cloud applies for the specific use case. Cloud-level interfaces and apps will migrate to the edge. Industrial application hosting and analytics will become common at the edge, using virtual servers and simplified operational technology-friendly hardware and software.

Benefits in network simplification, security and bandwidth accompany the IT simplification.  

Stratus Technologies, based in Maynard, Massachusetts, is an EncompassTM Product Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetworkTM program. The company provides high availability and fault tolerant solutions to keep applications up and running.

 

 

The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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