Edge Computing for Dummies – From Pipelines to Till Lines

By Greg Hookings, Head of Business Development – Digitalisation, Stratus Technologies

Across the board businesses are under more pressure than ever to optimise performance and productivity. Whether that is a pipeline transporting precious petroleum or a retail chain with multiple stores, every small, medium and large enterprise can turn data into actionable results through the deployment of Edge Computing.

In addition to its monitoring and controlling capabilities, Edge Computing provides the ability to collect and analyse data at the network edge where it’s generated. The network edge is where things and people produce or consume data generated in a distributed computing infrastructure. Simply put, Edge Computing collects information at the source and rather than sending that data to the Cloud or to a traditional data centre, turning it to actionable data on the spot. It does this to avoid latency, especially important when latency can affect the performance of an application and to avoid cost.

Why now?
Data is ubiquitous and ever-growing, both in volume and availability due in part to the low cost of IoT devices. In a report by Gartner, the number of IoT devices is predicted to reach 25 billion by 2021, that’s just over 3.5 devices for every person on the planet! And the data they are producing is growing just as much, Forbes estimates that by 2025 these IoT devices will be producing 175 Zettabytes, a Zettabyte is approximately a billion Terabytes. Previously it was thought that all this data would be pushed to the Cloud for analysis, but the reality is if you want to make real-time changes, there is just far too much latency for this. There is not enough bandwidth in the entire universe to handle that much data up to the Cloud and back and the numbers agree. A recent Stratus Technologies report shows that this data is moving towards the edge, 91% of today’s data is created and processed in a traditional data centre. By 2020, Gartner estimates that 75% of all data will need analysis and action at the edge.

Who is Edge Computing for?
There are very few businesses in the digital age that wouldn’t benefit from real-time data acquisition and simplicity of modern Edge Computing platforms. Here is a breakdown of sectors from process to commercial and the benefits achieved.

Any device that is producing information outside the traditional data centre can benefit from Edge Computing.  That makes transport, travel and logistics operations perfect for such a deployment.

Whether that is managing traffic at an airport gate, tracking deliveries or taking commuters to work on the train, short periods of downtime can disrupt the entire operation.

Taking the rail transportation example, across the globe state-of-the-art digital technologies are changing the way railway companies operate. From Singapore to Hong Kong to India, computer-based management, control and communication systems are being deployed to improve operational efficiency whilst keeping passengers safe.

Train Control and Management Systems are utilising IoT devices and Edge Computing is allowing real-time analysis. With data captured by sensors both on-board and track side, this supports remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance. Not only will equipment, tracks and stations operate more efficiently but it improves safety and reduces long-term costs for all elements involved, from the Radio Block Centre to the barrier drive.

Edge Computing removes the need for laborious, manual and time-consuming tasks like traditional tunnel and site inspections.

Edge Computing has a huge role to play in manufacturing and process industries when it comes to machine health and it does this through data. But a sector that produces high volumes of vital data is retail. Be that transaction processing, ordering or distribution, if any of these elements stop, revenue stops. There are also the compliance regulations that come with card payment security. Combining all this means that the risk of data loss is out of the question for retailers.

Take Dis-Chem, a family owned business with almost 100 stores, there are two core elements. One is the pharmaceutical dispensary and the other is the front of shop sales. Downtime was a constant issue on the antiquated system, causing frustration to the customer, loss of business and most importantly loss of data. With limited on-site staff, the solution needed to be affordable and easy to use so that if an issue was to arise, it could be rectified by the on-site staff, all without loss of data. After an easy installation, the Edge solution monitors all operations and transactions and is being deployed in all current and future stores.

Edge Computing ensures always on running of all distribution, payment and inventory systems. Taking away the complexities of IT management lets Dis-Chem focus on growing the business and once again, offers peace-of-mind that no essential customer data is ever lost.

Oil & Gas
Taking a snapshot look at a broad industry, this section focuses on pipeline transportation, specifically Columbia Pipeline Group. Directly responsible for the delivery of natural gas for a wide variety of industries including hospitals and manufacturing Columbia Pipeline also delivers direct to households.

Along the pipeline at every 50 – 100 miles there is a compressor station, at this station is an Edge Computing platform. This ensures the availability of the HMI and lets on-site operators continue to do their jobs and keep the facility running. Without this solution in place, should there be any unplanned downtime the on-site team would have no way of controlling their units, not to mention the lost data which is of great importance to the corporate analytics team.

This is one single element of the oil and gas process that is aided by Edge Computing. The sector lends itself perfectly to the technology with assets normally far away from the traditional data centre and IT expertise. Also a sector that sees extended lifecycles for legacy equipment, Edge Computing gives on-site operators insight into machine health long before an issue arises.

This snapshot into Edge Computing shows the vast width of sectors – and use cases – that can benefit from a simple, protected and autonomous platform, and it doesn’t stop here. The technology is already commonplace in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, smart buildings and telecommunications to name a handful of other examples.

Essentially if data is being produced, Edge Computing is a viable option to improve operational effectiveness and is a vital enabler of a business’ Digital Transformation journey.

Deploying a new computing platform can be daunting if you don’t know where to start, but now there is a way. Edge Computing for Dummies is the free to download guidebook breaking down by sector how to take the first steps on an Edge Computing journey. Download your copy today.