Your Smart Devices Should be Living on the Edge (Part One) By Jason Andersen, Stratus Technologies

Many of the devices we interact with on a daily basis are advertised as “smart” – from hairbrushes, to forks, to water bottles. However, the majority of these smart products do not currently have the capabilities to provide significant user benefits for consumers aside from collecting data about how often you’re drinking water or brushing your hair. On the other hand, smart products for the commercial and industrial industries can provide substantial benefits for companies that are looking to improve their operations and bottom lines. 

The Case for Smart Devices
What’s impressive is that there are already more Internet of Things (IoT) devices than there are people on Earth, and that number is going to continue to increase immensely in the years to come.

Early generations of smart computing systems were generally bulky and required centralization and protection in designated rooms. Now, recent innovations have resulted in all sorts of powerful devices with smaller footprints, minimal power consumption and easier installations. These devices have many benefits, from environmental monitoring to predictive analytics.

For the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) specifically, vendors have developed smart sensors that can perform a multitude of functions, from monitoring temperature and pressure, to flagging early warnings of trouble in unstaffed locations.

In addition to these capabilities, a major benefit of modern IIoT solutions is the ubiquitous adoption of wireless technologies and battery operation. These advancements let users rapidly and economically deploy sensors, with easy installations and minimal downtime required for launch.

Capturing Data
Once these smart devices have been installed, users find true value by transferring data to cloud-based supervisory and analytical systems. These systems provide actionable insights for users to establish a preventative or predictive maintenance program. With these types of programs, a user is able to respond as quickly as possible when a problem like an air conditioning failure or a water leak arises.

But there is a catch with smart devices: they provide vast amounts of raw data without corresponding context, creating a need to pre-process this data and boil it down to the essential information, and in some cases to perform analytics at the edge. And in the field, these smart sensors often live at the extreme edge of the network, far past what traditional networking capabilities can access. Now, users are finding that a best practice for these devices is to process and analyze data at the edge, as there can often be too much of a lag time when sending valuable information to and from the cloud.

In my next article, I’ll discuss some logical steps for establishing an edge computing architecture, ideally suited for processing raw IIoT data to produce useful results from your smart devices.