As featured in ReadWrite
As we observe what’s happening in industrial enterprises, there’s an interesting evolution occurring—one that has important implications as companies make their first tentative steps toward the industrial Internet of things (IIoT).
Traditionally, operational technology (OT) teams have tended to think of their environment in terms of the automation equipment within their environment, both hardware and software. They might describe themselves as a “Rockwell shop” or a “Siemens shop.” They identified with the tools that made automation possible.
But that’s beginning to change. We’re now seeing an increasing number of organizations where engineers are focused less on the tools and more on the data that’s generated by their automation systems. This evolution reflects the increasing recognition that data and advanced analytics offer tremendous opportunities for unlocking business value. More and more, people are focused on data rather than applications. That’s a major shift in mindset.
What’s driving this shift? In part, it’s being driven by the explosive growth in data as a result of the increase in computing intelligence at the edge, closer to production processes.
What are the four “I’s”?
This is the first step in the progression to a true IIoT infrastructure—a progression I call “the four ‘I’s.” It starts with Insightful, using business analytics to drive insights and efficiencies. They can then progress to Intelligent, connecting elements across the infrastructure to enable real-time optimization. The ultimate state is Invisible, where decisions are made in real time based on artificial intleligence (AI) with no human intervention.
Most industrial enterprises are in the Informed stage, though forward-looking enterprises are thinking strategically about their roadmap to the more advanced phases. Some industries are progressing faster than others based on their perceived return on investment. For example, the food and beverage industries are actively embracing IIoT technologies. They recognize the value of using real-time data analytics to help ensure not only production efficiency but also the safety and quality of their products, which is critical to the value of their brands. Other highly regulated industries are seeing the value in production data to help ensure compliance.
Some “old school” industries, on the other hand, may be slow to recognize the value of data in terms of optimizing their efficiency or gaining a competitive advantage. As technology progresses, I predict these holdouts will begin to recognize real-time analytics as an essential component of a modern industrial enterprise—or find themselves playing catch-up.
For the enterprises that “get it,” this growth in data—and its increasing criticality to the business—is a catalyst to modernize their infrastructure. That infrastructure needs to be scalable to accommodate accelerating data growth and flexible to allow new ways to use real-time data analytics. As they become more reliant on data, they need to think about how to protect that valuable data. That means viewing data availability and integrity as a core requirement, not as an afterthought.
To continue learning about this topic, check out the recent webinar “Living on the Edge – New techniques for protecting data in the Era of IIoT”.
Not long ago, data centers were the primary bastions for data, servers, networking, applications, and other infrastructure. Residing in these locations, or at least nearby, often was a highly skilled IT staff focused on designing, testing, and supporting all of that infrastructure. But the paradigm for the data center is changing fast. Enterprises are pushing computing to the outer edges of the network near or right at production sites where true production is happening, whether they are producing electricity, or using intelligent sensors to monitor factory automation systems.
Our customers are increasingly investing to protect business critical apps on the Edge
We’re seeing this transformation up close in a big way as we observe our customers increasingly deploy business critical applications beyond and geographically away from their data centers. With our heritage of helping customers to protect their applications with continuous availability, we have led the industry with fault-tolerant hardware and software for nearly four decades. Building on our success and leadership with protecting the data center’s most critical applications—from ATMs to airline reservations to manufacturing execution systems—we are bringing our trademark of innovative availability to edge computing with solutions that are hands down the easiest to deploy and operate, with the longest life span on the market. In fact, for the first time, Stratus generated more revenue from the edge than data centers in our last fiscal year.
IIoT and Smart Manufacturing are fueling the rise of the Edge
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a big driver behind edge computing. IIoT is starting to take shape as the next phase in the rapid expansion of industrial automation, which also happens to be one of our largest, most robust markets. Companies that are ready to modernize their infrastructures are attracted to IIoT because it offers substantial improvements in efficiency, productivity, and business intelligence. We’re seeing IIoT adoption across food and beverage, oil and gas, specialty chemicals, and water and waste management, among other industries. As evidence of this adoption, IndustryARC pegs the IIoT market as reaching $123 billion by 2021.
The Edge poses unique functional requirements
Understandably, enterprises need to plan carefully when deploying systems at the edge given the requirements traditional data center solutions cannot meet. Edge systems are often in remote locations, such as a natural gas compression station or on a dairy production floor. At sites far away from corporate resources, the local, often tiny staff lacks IT skills, and yet they rely on multiple applications generating the most critical of data. On top of that, these systems are streaming this data to other core functions at various sites across the enterprise—on-premise and in a hybrid cloud. If these edge systems fail, they remove an IIoT link vital to the chain of enterprise data flow and slow or even halt production flow, create compliance issues, and impact customers.
Providing an Edge to our customers
That’s where Stratus comes in by protecting the integrity and availability of vital applications at the edge of your networks. With our concept of the Stratus Smart Connected Hub™, you get assurance of no unplanned downtime with fault tolerance and predictive system monitoring. We continue to offer the lowest TCO for critical edge applications because our systems offer hands-off operation, run on open, standard environments, and don’t require IT skills to operate.
Our strategy is to support more customers in their journey to the Edge
To stay ahead of the transformation underway with edge-centric computing, we will expand our focus on the growing number of use cases in this space. These include virtualization, analytics, predictive modeling, artificial intelligence, supply chain unification, and more. With our innovative, always-on systems designed for true IT simplicity, you will be able to “go over the edge” with confidence and capture valuable IIoT-driven gains in efficiency and productivity.
Alaska is an environment tailor-made for Stratus Technologies’ solutions. The state is remote, access to IT expertise is a challenging in many locations and the environmental condition can present a myriad of issues. Combine this with small, remote communities with the need to run automation systems for water, waste water and other utilities, and the requirement for fault-tolerant solution is easy to understand. Alaska’s main industries include oil & gas, fishing, processing, and mining.
At CB Pacific’s recent Automation Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska, I had the opportunity to meet with many end users and system integrators to discuss their challenges and understand how Stratus could be of service to them. Given the fact that oil and gas commodity prices are under pressure, resulting in financial constraints on the major Alaska producers, these producers are looking for cost saving solutions and efficiencies across all aspect of their business. With only one major road up to the North slope, and remote pumping and compression stations that are only accessible by helicopter, highly redundant systems are an absolute necessity. In addition, the weather can add another level of complexity for those who service and maintain the critical infrastructure.
Traditional solutions rely on multiple standard servers configured in a variety of redundant configurations to keep things running. Stratus, working with its partner CB Pacific and local systems integrators is able to offer a single fault-tolerant solution. Through integrated redundancy that continuously monitors and diagnoses any potential problems, allowing for an environment that has no downtime and no data loss. CB Pacific and its system integrator partners handle delivery of the easy to replace hot-swappable replacement parts. This streamlined solution makes for a very cost-effective implementation and eliminates the fear of blind moments caused by unplanned downtime. Only Stratus can provide a Fault Tolerant solution from which to run your critical monitoring and safety applications.
In the latest entry in our video series, Jason Andersen discusses some of the areas where our Stratus technology is deployed; places such as smart energy grids, and retail and manufacturing scenarios which are outside of the traditional data center. These spaces have been changing for years, and continue to change radically.
You can watch the video below for Jason’s thoughts on the future of the edge data center, which includes server virtualization, remote control access, greater convergence of technologies, and more.
Watch more videos by visiting our Stratus Technologies YouTube page.
Applications being housed outside data centers are becoming increasingly complex. While the majority of applications at the edge used to be for data collection, today more and more of the function of process is getting pushed down to the edge application.
In the video below, Jason Andersen discusses the responsibilities of the next generation server closet. The reliability at the edge is becoming paramount as the Internet of Things creates more and more data that has to be dealt with in real-time in closet-based data centers. He also gives examples of these new application needs, which are changing how organizations in different industries are providing availability and resilience to the overall end user.
Watch more videos by visiting our Stratus Technologies YouTube page.
At Stratus, our solutions are very often deployed at what we call “the Edge”. This is a very interesting place that is sometimes also referred to as the Remote Office / Branch Office, “ROBO” or even lately “the Fog”. We are often asked for our definition so here it is in three versions.
The Analyst Version
We largely align our vision and definition of the Edge with what IDC calls “Departmental” Deployment Locations. This is something that is deployed outside the datacenter with 1000 feet or more of floor space. This datacenter can be either traditional or hyper-scale.
The Short Version
Our short version is that the Edge is a server deployed outside the datacenter where there is no dedicated IT staff to manage it.
The Long Version
The Edge is the place where technology is deployed without the standard trappings of a traditional datacenter in terms of human and technology resources. Often treated like “an orphan out in the wild”, computing at the Edge is giving advent to the internet of things (IoT) as well as localized data and telemetry services. At Stratus we believe there are 3 categories of Edge technologies. These categories are likely to co-exist with each other but can also be stand-alone depending upon the situation.
- Fixed Remote Edge – Fixed remote Edge is very common today and is a superset of ROBO. Fixed Remote Edge goes beyond the idea of end user computing and expands into new areas such as Industrial Automation (Manufacturing), Energy Production and Retail. Fixed Remote Edge solutions typically have some level of IT support (albeit not likely dedicated or specialized). A major trend in this area includes server consolidation via virtualization due to the proliferation of software defined automation technology.
- Operational Mobile Edge – Operational Mobile Edge differs from Fixed Remote in that it is often placed alone and somewhat autonomous in a wide range of environments. This technology is also often not permanently deployed and may move about. It’s generally remotely operated and support is often not immediately available – it may take days to get someone out there. Examples include wind and solar farms, container ships, airplanes and highway systems.
- Mobile End Points (aka Things) – When people think about the IoT they often default to the Things. This is common since many systems are defined by the parts that have the most user impact. The nature of these things is rapidly evolving and you can look to your home to see that thermostats, security systems and even your phones are all in this category. In the enterprise examples include next generation PLC equipment, supply chain tracking and cars with electronic toll payments.
So, the Edge is a very diverse place where reliability and serviceability are mandatory. This is why you will see Stratus hardware and software technologies deployed globally in all three categories of Edge applications.
It’s a lovely time to be back here in San Francisco and sitting in at the super galactic VMWorld 2015 show. Over the next few days I will share my thoughts on the show and how it ties in with Stratus. While this year wasn’t very heavy on tech breakthroughs, VMware offered us a glimpse of something far more interesting – a vision of where all of their stuff begins to hang together in a compelling way. As a company that partners with VMware, this is very interesting to Stratus. It’s also very interesting in that the vision goes a step beyond a “federation” of things that works together. VMware’s vision is more robust than that.
The feeling I am getting is VMware is focusing on making the entire operational experience seamless and simple. This extends to everything they are talking about, and after a while you start to get the feeling that VMware is really trying to leverage approaches associated with consumer technologies and apply them to the data center. This is not necessarily revolutionary thinking and many have suffered in their attempts to do this in the past so we will have to watch and see how this plays out for vmware. But unlike others who have tried before, VMware’s vision is a fully software defined and virtualized vision which seems to have more possibility for success.
So on that note, let’s start with why I came to VMworld in the first place – the evo products (Rail and Rack). Since last year when evo was announced I have been digesting the whole evo strategy and I have to say the message of a simple and easy to deploy converged appliance is compelling. We know that because Stratus has been demonstrating simplicity as a hallmark for all of our products (including our Vsphere products) for years. But some of VMware’s newer angles with respect to storage and networking are pretty forward thinking. It’s impressive.
But like all things great, it is not perfect – when you look at the cost to acquire this type of solution for example some of the shine comes off the story. The net is that evo is a strategic purchase completed at the executive level and it’s selection cements a company as a “VMware” shop. Therefore, it seemed a bit strange when what we at Stratus call Edge solutions were highlighted as a possible use case. Yes, it make sense on paper as you would likely see the greatest benefits from deploying at the Edge. However, the payoff for evo would require a semi significant consolidation of existing resources. Over time, I am guessing this will happen since we have seen VM density increasing at the Edge as it has in the data center (albeit at a slower rate). So, while technically exciting it may need some more time to reach critical mass.
That said, if you want a solid, very simple to deploy and manage Edge based solution you don’t need to go full on evo. You can take a peek at our very own ftServer. It’s deployed in thousands of sites already and hits the very same marks. And of course, it fully supports vSphere and we have a new version of it coming later this year.
We’re a bunch of techies here at Stratus so when we think of ourselves we tend to think about what we do versus what we enable to happen. Yes, we make servers and software but what do those servers and software actually do? Every time I see a new use of our technology, I literally get a bit excited because what our technology enables is pretty great. So, I’m always reminding myself and others of what Stratus really does. In simple terms….
Stratus builds technology that enables always-on Applications.
So, what exactly is an Always On Application? It’s an application that cannot fail or go down because if it does there is potential risk to life, revenues or even reputation. We have been doing this for a long time and in all kinds of places, but recently I’ve been spending some time thinking about how always-on applications have changed over the years. As technology has evolved so have the needs and uses of always-on applications. What’s most exciting today is seeing the developments in the internet of things (IoT) and software defined networking, I believe we are seeing the beginnings of the next major shift in always on. I call this the third wave of always-on applications but in order to understand the third wave, we need to talk about the first two waves.
Stratus made a name for itself in the first wave. And in fact since our systems are up and running for a very long time there is still a whole bunch of our gear out there supporting many first wave applications. But in the past five years we’ve put more and more effort on the second wave which is very much underway and with the advent of Big Data and IoT technology, this will continue for some time. But as we look ahead at future developments such as 5G mobile networks and solar and wind farms, we will see less and less people operating the applications and more and more automation and intelligence. In this world, failures here will be even more difficult to recover from.
To sum up, the need to enable always-on infrastructures is here to stay for a long time. The key for vendors like us and our partners is to adapt to the shifts in demand for always on.