Open Edge Software Platform for ‘Time-Critical’ IoT Systems

In brief: Edge XRT Provides Low Latency, Predictable Real-time Processing Capabilities, Suitable for High Performance IoT Edge Applications.

There are many incumbents with cash-cow platforms who are becoming ever more vulnerable. Whenever a market has experienced consolidation and incumbent products have become cash cows, then the market is ripe for disruption from a totally different direction.

For the sake of innovation and advancement of the state-of-the-art, I hope that today’s younger engineers and those coming into the field in the next few years are not shy about exploring open source and standards and new ways of approaching problems. I’m not predicting that this new product from IOTech will solve all the world’s problems, but this is a very interesting step into the future.

The news: IOTech announced general availability of Edge XRT, a software platform for time-critical and resource-constrained applications at the IoT Edge. It is integrated into IOTech’s implementation of the open source EdgeX Foundry.

Edge XRT greatly simplifies the development of time-critical IoT systems at the Edge and enables application portability, improved supportability and faster time-to-market for new IoT edge applications. XRT runs on commodity hardware, independent of silicon provider and operating system and has complete deployment flexibility, it can be deployed as a native application, containerized and/or into a virtualized environment.

Edge XRT is targeted at IoT applications with a need one or all of the following characteristics – small memory footprint (as low as 100KB); ultra-low latency (from < 100 microseconds); predictable real-time data processing. Written entirely in C, Edge XRT is also extremely portable and can support legacy “brownfield” systems based older hardware, operating systems and development environments.

Edge XRT is designed for high performance edge computing use cases such as industrial control and real-time signal processing applications across different vertical markets including factory automation, oil and gas, utilities, smart energy and renewables. It also enables integration between the real-time edge control systems and higher-level SCADA applications.

With its small memory footprint and efficient use of computing resources, Edge XRT also makes it suitable for microcontroller based IoT applications including instrumentation and equipment monitoring, automobile engine management systems, medical devices, home automation and consumer electronics.

Edge XRT can be deployed independently or as a Real-Time extension to any general purpose Edge Platform. For example, Edge XRT has been fully integrated with IOTech’s Edge Xpert, an industrial grade implementation of EdgeX Foundry the market leading open source edge platform.

The product suite positions the company to support the full spectrum of secure software and hard real-time IoT edge computing needs.

“The availability Edge XRT is the exciting result of over two years of intense development and close collaboration with a number of key partners”, said Keith Steele, CEO of IOTech. “For our customers looking to deploy the next generation of industrial system at the Edge, Edge XRT provides an intelligent and feature-rich IoT platform which can support the most demanding performance requirements while significantly reducing time-to-market for their projects.”

Data Remains Key Challenge for Artificial Intelligence Projects

70 Percent of Companies Report C-Suite Involvement into AI Projects, with COVID-19 Driving Acceleration of AI Strategies – But Businesses Still Name Data as Key Challenge.

“Artificial Intelligence is neither,” according to my favorite quip. This field of computer science is perhaps the most misunderstood thanks to possibility thinkers like Ray Kurzweil and the many dystopian movies. Nevertheless, AI in its realistic form powers much modern technology. And not only for home artificial listening devices. Business and industry use it often, as well.

Appen Limited, the leading provider of training data for organizations that build effective AI systems at scale, has announced its annual State of AI Report for 2020. The report highlights increasing C-suite involvement and investment in enterprise AI projects as well as data being a key challenge as AI models get more frequent updates in production. The report also reveals the recent acceleration of AI strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, nearly 75 percent of businesses now consider AI critical to their success, and AI continues to grow in importance across companies of various sizes and industries. Yet, almost 50 percent of those who responded to the 2020 State of AI survey feel their company is behind on their AI journey, suggesting a critical gap exists between the strategic need and the ability to execute.

“Many organizations have adopted the use of the internet at the core of their processes, and AI is on a similar journey from fringes to core value offering. Increasing investment in AI projects and greater involvement by the C-suite, along with accelerating enterprise adoption in the wake of COVID-19, are clear indicators that AI is core to business success,” said Appen CEO Mark Brayan. “However, most companies are still in the early stages and facing challenges, especially around training data.”

Key Takeaways from the 2020 State of AI Report

The C-Suite is now far more heavily invested and involved in the development of AI projects

Executive visibility and involvement in AI have increased over 30 percent year-over-year, with 71 percent of organizations reporting C-suite involvement in AI projects. What’s more, the percentage of companies investing over $5 million has effectively doubled compared to last year. With this level of executive involvement and increased budgets, ethics, governance, and risk management initiatives have become important topics for technologists building AI.

COVID-19 is not slowing AI Investment

Continuing investment in AI shows that businesses are choosing to spend in times of turbulence. Two-thirds of companies do not expect any negative impact on their AI strategies. Nearly 50 percent of companies have accelerated their AI strategies, 20 percent doing so “significantly,” betting their AI projects will have a positive impact on their organization’s resiliency, efficiency, and innovation.

“COVID-19 has changed everything about the way companies are operating today, but not everyone has adapted in the same way,” added Wilson Pang, CTO at Appen. “The State of AI report shows despite turbulent times, more than two-thirds of respondents do not expect any negative impact from COVID-19 on their AI strategies. Those that are prioritizing AI see the power of digital transformations as a way to improve their resiliency and long-term performance.”

Data remains the key AI challenge

Training data is the key to successful AI, with 3 out of 4 companies updating their models at least quarterly. However, 40 percent of those updating quarterly feel that a lack of data or data management is a challenge.

“Many businesses are still early on their AI journey and they are finding that their data needs span beyond in-house resources when looking for high-quality, annotated training data that drives AI success,” added Pang. “Industry leaders are turning more and more to third-party providers like Appen to help them deploy their AI projects.”

HPE Edge Orchestrator Delivers Low-Latency Cloud Services At the Edge

• Enables telcos to monetize 5G networks and edge infrastructure by delivering new low latency cloud services at the edge via an app catalog

Remember two things if you meet the typical profile of a reader of this blog—it’s all happening at the edge and production/manufacturing are the edge; and data is the gold we’re mining and hype of the cloud is so over, it’s about gathering, analyzing, orchestrating, and sending all the data gathered at the edge to some sort of cloud.

I’ve been watching developments of 5G (and not so much WiFi6, but it’s a partner) for some time. It’s hard to separate the hype from reality—something that always happens at the early stage. Marketers can’t prevent themselves from trying to hype their companies as ahead of the curve, while engineers have been quietly pushing the curve.

So I was able to watch some sessions at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Discover Virtual Experience on this very topic. HPE’s Aruba is a leading supplier of communication products. Following is the lead announcement from last week.

HPE Edge Orchestrator, a SaaS-based offering enables telcos to deploy innovative new edge computing services to customers via IT infrastructure located at the edge of telco networks or on customer premises. With the HPE Edge Orchestrator solution, telcos can extend their offerings to include a catalog of edge computing applications which customers can deploy with a single click, across hundreds of locations. HPE Edge Orchestrator enables telcos to monetize the 5G network and telco cloud while bringing lower latency, increased security and enhanced end-user experiences to their customers.

Analysts expect the next decade to see the rise of edge computing where data intensive workloads such as AI, machine learning (ML), augmented and virtual reality apps will be hosted at the edge. Telcos already have thousands of edge sites powering mobile and fixed networks, so they are uniquely positioned to lead the edge services market. In fact according to a recent IDC study, 40% of enterprises trust their telco to be their main provider of edge solutions. However, until now telcos haven’t had the tools to do this themselves without relying on public cloud providers.

HPE Edge Orchestrator gives the power back to telcos. Now they can offer value-added edge services in their own right and can move from being primarily bandwidth providers to offering innovative edge computing applications, such as AI-powered video analytics, industrial automation and VR retail services. New revenue from these high-value enterprise services will also help to cover the significant cost of deploying new 5G infrastructure.

• Telcos can move from being primarily bandwidth providers to offering innovative edge computing applications

HPE Edge Orchestrator unleashes the deployment and configuration of customer applications, provided as virtual machines or containers, at geographically distributed edge locations owned by telcos, such as existing central offices or on customer premises. Customers can access edge applications via a self-service app catalog for simple management, monitoring and the deployment of an app to an edge device with one-click operation.

HPE Edge Orchestrator enables enterprises to easily combine their applications with network services offered by telcos, thus creating an end-to-end flow across the edge. Today, HPE Edge Orchestrator supports Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) with other network-as-a-service (NaaS) functions being added to the catalog over time. The MEC platform enables applications to run at the edge, while delivering network services that ensure a dynamic routing of edge traffic in 4G, 5G, and Wi-Fi environments.

To capitalize on the edge services opportunity, telcos need to bring applications from the cloud out to the edge where the data exists. With HPE Edge Orchestrator, along with HPE Edgeline and ProLiant servers, telcos can position application intelligence at the edge and unlock major business benefits for their customers:

  • Lower latency: When applications can process requests locally instead of routing them to a data center, they can deliver much better performance. This translates to a better user experience for any business application. For the new generation of ultra-low-latency use cases like augmented reality and industrial automation, short round-trip times are absolutely essential.
  • Bandwidth optimization: Positioning application intelligence out at the edge, such as doing number-crunching closer to where the numbers are generated, greatly reduces the wide-area network (WAN) bandwidth the application requires. This translates to lower WAN costs for businesses and less traffic congestion in telco core and metro networks. Applications like video analytics become much more efficient and, as a result, applicable to use cases that might not have been viable in the past.
  • Improved security and privacy: Any time businesses transmit data over a network, they’re potentially exposing it to security threats. For the most sensitive information, some businesses want to keep everything onsite. In regions with strict privacy protections like the European Union, some applications may simply not be viable unless they can process all personally identifiable information (PII) locally.

New edge computing offerings start with compute platforms optimized for deployment at remote operator sites (central offices, radio towers, other point of presence (POP) locations), or even directly at the customer premises. For example, HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Servers, such as the EL4000 and EL8000, have been specifically designed to run at the edge. Platforms like these host all of the components needed to manage the edge computing workloads in containers or VMs.

HPE Edge Orchestrator provides a centralized, comprehensive, hardware agnostic orchestration platform to provision, configure, and perform general management functions for all components of edge computing. HPE Edge Orchestrator is also multi-tenant by design.

Telcos can give diverse enterprise customers their own “private” interfaces to manage their workloads, sites, edge devices, and services, while their own teams manage the entire CSP edge computing portfolio as a single system. HPE Edge Orchestrator can also work in conjunction with the recently announced Aruba Edge Services Platform (ESP), enabling enterprises to easily integrate both Wi-Fi-based and telco services.

Emerson Integrates Augmented Reality into Plantweb Optics

Emerson marketing called us together for a virtual press conference and demonstration of its take on Augmented Reality (AR) integrated with it Plantweb Optics asset performance platform. I’ve seen many demos of AR over the past many years. The technology inspires imaginative thinking, but somehow companies have just not managed to make it ready for prime time.

Emerson’s evidently is. Not only could they show a demo, it is due to be released later this summer with the next release of Plantweb Optics software. Better yet, it does not require glasses or other peripheral equipment other than the smart phone or device people are already using.

The tag line from Emerson: Analytics and live remote assistance improve productivity and safety.

What does it do, really? Well, it delivers enhanced access to real-time diagnostics and analytics, as well as live remote assistance, to industrial plant workers responsible for maintaining and optimizing plant equipment. With AR technology integrated into Plantweb Optics, companies can improve productivity, collaboration and operational performance, without being limited by shortages of skilled workers or travel restrictions.

“Successful digital transformation programs that lead to Top Quartile performance have people and work practices as a key focus. Adopting innovative technology like augmented reality and institutionalizing best practices enable workers to add more value than ever to operational and business performance,” said Stuart Harris, group president for Emerson’s digital transformation business. “With these new Plantweb Optics technologies, customers can experience significant improvements in equipment reliability and the safety of their facilities.”

Plantweb Optics leverages artificial intelligence, machine learning analytics, and data contextualization to provide real-time visibility into plant reliability and operational performance. Unlike standalone AR solutions that require custom engineering, AR is integrated into Plantweb Optics, providing immediate access to a wealth of data and translating into easier, less costly implementation and a faster return on investment. For use by manufacturers in the life sciences, food and beverage, chemical, metals and mining, power and water, pulp and paper and energy industries, Plantweb Optics is part of Emerson’s award-winning Plantweb digital ecosystem of technologies, software and services.

Augmented reality for Plantweb Optics transforms the way field technicians accomplish complex tasks through enhanced situational awareness, live remote assistance and analytics delivered in context of the plant. As a field technician walks an industrial plant with a mobile device, Plantweb Optics uses spatial computing technology to map assets and provide technicians with critical maintenance information relevant to their location. Plantweb Optics overlays real-time analytics, equipment health status and technical support documentation on their field of view, so technicians can safely resolve issues sooner.

The augmented and virtual reality market is projected to grow annually at 40% from 2017 through 2025, according to multiple research reports. Much of this spending will come from manufacturers around the globe using AR technology to help upskill their workforce for digitalized operations.

With live remote assistance, field technicians can be virtually shadowed by experts, either on-site or off-site, from Emerson, their own company or another service provider. Experts can talk, type or augment the technician’s mobile display with graphics to guide the next action. Live remote assistance enables technicians and experts to collaborate for safe troubleshooting and repairs, regardless of location and without travel costs. Live remote assistance sessions, best practices and notes from experienced engineers and step-by-step troubleshooting procedures can be logged into a knowledge library for use by all engineers at a site. The knowledge library is a resource for companies to standardize procedures and ensure engineers of all experience levels understand an asset’s history and are using best practices for safe, efficient operations.

People and Data—the Most Important Assets

This week I attended the AVEVA World customer conference sitting on my patio with a bank of computers on the table. It’s always nice to catch up with the latest from technology suppliers, even if we couldn’t meet in person and have all those informative hallway conversations.

Next week I’ll be attending three conferences, something that would have been a physical impossibility only a few months ago. Looks like all of my anticipated conference trips have been cancelled until November.

I must begin with a note regarding the AVEVA/Schneider Electric relationship. If you go back a few years, Schneider Electric made a rather large and significant acquisition. It kept the Foxboro and Triconex (and a few other) brands and used the software parts—Wonderware and Avantis and some others—as an investment into an engineering software company called AVEVA. As a result, Schneider Electric owns just over a majority of the shares in the publicly traded software company. And, therefore, Schneider Electric played a significant minor role in this conference.

Schneider’s chairman and CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, said, “AVEVA should be agnostic. Our customers don’t have just one system but have the problem of integrating the complexity of having more than one system. AVEVA is completely open. We are independent companies working closely with each other.”

Craig Hayman, CEO of AVEVA, noted during his keynote address, “We’ve pivoted to emphasize digital. We recognize that people and data are the two most important assets. We do this technology in order to make people successful. Businesses have the great responsibility to protect employees and customers. We’re seeing the power of data and analytics helping companies respond to incidents as they occur and operate assets as efficiently as possible.” Indeed, digital, data, and people were the keywords of the event.

In further remarks, Tricoire emphasized “Digital Trust and Sustainability”. He shared how COVID-19 has accelerated existing digital trends, encouraging more efficiency, “remote everything,” greater resilience, and for sustainability to mitigate and adapt to primary threats of both the pandemic and climate change. He said, “Faced with a very volatile environment, companies need superior agility, and increased efficiency. This means they need increased capacity on one side, resiliency on the other side. The overall winner is digitalization. And the need for digitalization has been further reinforced by companies new need to operate remotely, for higher efficiency, and ultimately, for much better sustainability.”

Guest customer keynoter, Saad Bashir, CTO of the City of Seattle, speaking on “Digital Agility in the Age of COVID-19” shared his thoughts on what happened in Seattle when the pandemic hit. “Although we had planned for digital resiliency for some time, we didn’t really know how it would go until one morning all 30,000 people in our team decided to stay home and log on.” Although the team’s resiliency plans have held up well, Saad adds, “We’ve already seen opportunities from the lessons learned and one that’s worth highlighting is digital resiliency…with a unified view of our infrastructure with systems that are seamlessly connected so that they can inform decisions.”

Much discussion involved both Cloud and Edge—you must develop both, can’t have one without the other.

Ravi Gopinath, AVEVA Chief Cloud Officer and COO discussed cloud and AI. He noted four areas of investment—new way of engineering; new way of visualization; reliability and safe operations; drive agility. Develop cloud on one side and AI on the other. The cloud strengths—deploy applications easily, low TCO, enable flexible consumption, and enhance collaboration. AI provides—analysis, prediction, guidance, learning. Leading to Digital Twin, Big Data, and Industrial IoT and Edge.

The press release coming from the event focused on Schneider Electric, who announced expanded partnerships with AVEVA, Lenovo and Stratus to address the convergence of IT and OT. This partnership is bringing together system integrators with IT solution providers to build integrated industrial edge computing solutions resulting in the immediate release of three programs to empower system integrators to expand their value to end users, enabling their customers’ industrial digital transformations.

These programs include:

      Industrial edge reference designs: Co-developed with AVEVA, including solutions from Lenovo and Stratus, these reference designs reduce risk and time to market with fully customizable, pre-integrated EcoStruxure Micro Data Center solutions for any edge environment. With secure solutions designed to meet IT standards, system integrators can free up time from the IT architecture to focus on the software and solutions. These reference designs are available in Schneider Electric’s Local Edge Configurator and can be customized to specifications.
      A digital training program for system integrators: Edge computing continues to prove itself as a space for opportunity for system integrators to extend business models and establish their roles as consultants. This learning program includes a comprehensive digital training series for system integrators on Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Micro Data Center and EcoStruxure IT solutions to help address common challenges at the edge.
      The Industrial Edge Exchange Community: Built within Schneider Electric Exchange, the Industrial Edge Community allows system integrators to easily identify and engage with edge-certified IT solution providers. It is designed to facilitate new business and address IT/OT projects, and features a tool that pairs Alliance System Integrators with Schneider Electric’s Edge-certified IT Channel Partners.

    “The smart factory is becoming smarter. Our expanded partnerships and new industrial edge programs empower system integrators to leverage their domain expertise and become IT/OT convergence specialists and meet these needs for their customers,” said Philippe Rambach, Senior Vice President, Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric. “We know that smart manufacturing is driving an unprecedented wave of IT technologies into industrial spaces. As companies leverage AI, robotic processing automation, and more, they will require edge computing solutions to reduce latency and enable resiliency, while ensuring privacy and security, and addressing important data and bandwidth requirements.”

    What is the Industrial Edge?

    For industrial operators to capture the benefits of increased automation, they cannot rely on cloud-technology alone to bring the resiliency and speed demanded by AI, HD cameras, and other Industry 4.0 technologies. Local edge data centers are IT infrastructure enclosures/spaces/facilities distributed geographically to enable endpoints on the network. When in industrial environments such as a manufacturing plant or distribution center, this application is referred to as “industrial edge.”

    Zero-touch Edge Computing Platform Simplifies Deployment

    I remember Stratus Technologies for years as a fault-tolerant server company that was almost alone exhibiting at manufacturing events. It has been an aggressive innovator for the past several years. This was just released today.

    The company now bills itself as a global leader in simplified, protected, autonomous Edge Computing platforms. It today unveiled enhancements to its ztC Edge portfolio, which includes the ztC Edge 100i and ztC Edge 110i. This update delivers an improved and more efficient deployment and provisioning experience to help organizations quickly install the zero-touch Edge Computing platforms across multiple locations. In addition, new manageability, security, and performance enhancements will help partners and customers reduce their cost of operations and maintenance, minimize risk of data loss, and ensure high availability for all business-critical operations.

    The ztC Edge is a secure, rugged, highly automated Edge Computing platform that helps organizations achieve peak performance through increased operational efficiency and zero downtime at the edge. With its built-in virtualization, automated protection, industrial interoperability and more, ztC Edge ensures that customers can quickly and easily achieve higher availability for their essential applications.

    Improved Manageability

    • ztC Edge system settings and user preferences can now quickly and easily be stored to a local drive or the Stratus Cloud. Simplified system backup and restoration will help companies save time by automating certain processes and reducing user error.
    • Different templates can be created and archived for different use cases, workloads, or locations, making commissioning systems more efficient and accurate. Organizations can use these templates to rapidly provision single, or multiple ztC Edge platforms from remote areas. This is especially important for partners who implement and manage multiple platforms across multiple customers’ facilities and properties, making it easier for them to support systems and applications from one off-site location remotely.
    • The latest version of the ztC Edge is Microsoft Azure certified, with integration capabilities embedded in the platform for simple systems management and faster time to value for customers.

    Improved Security

    • The ztC Edge 110i update introduces a new secure, cloud-based file repository, called the Stratus Cloud, for partners and customers to safely transmit, store and retrieve their ztC Edge system preference templates. Unlike other third-party cloud offerings, Stratus Cloud automatically authenticates users and groups using the same credentials as their Stratus Customer Service Portal account, saving partners and customers time and effort.

    Increased Performance

    • The ztC Edge 110i also comes with expanded 64 GB memory capacity to support a broader range of memory-intensive industrial workloads, giving customers more choice and flexibility in consolidating multiple applications (such as SCADA) on one machine – saving costs and increasing agility.
    • ztC Edge 110i platforms are now Class I Division 2 certified, making them safe to deploy in hazardous locations. This certification allows ztC Edge to be implemented in a wider variety of industrial settings with more significant environmental variability.

    The ztC Edge’s built-in virtualization makes applications portable, while the computing platform also provides greater availability, resilience, and data protection than other platforms. Numerous out-of-the-box capabilities improve the security of customers’ ztC Edge platforms, thus upgrading their security posture and mitigating risk. ztC Edge platforms also support common OT and IT protocols, tools, and standards, such as SNMP and OPC UA, which makes them easy to integrate into, and work with, existing environments, saving partners and customers time.

    “One of the biggest threats to customers is adding technology that is undependable and not secure. Customers should never have to worry about these risks when modernizing their Edge Computing capabilities,” said Jason Andersen, vice president of business line management at Stratus. “For some organizations, having highly reliable and protected platforms in place is imperative to the success of their business. They depend on these platforms to be ‘always-on’, secure, and able to run in any environment without human monitoring, maintenance, repairs, or support.”

    “With 40 years of experience protecting business-critical applications and environments, our ztC Edge platform has evolved to address challenges around performance, security, and manageability for computing at the edge,” said Jason Dietrich, chief revenue officer at Stratus. “Stratus partners can trust they are providing customers simple, protected and autonomous Edge Computing solutions that will maximize their operational efficiency while minimizing their operational, financial and reputational risk.”