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As we turn our sights to a new decade in 2020, it’s a good time to take stock of trends and opportunities facing commercial and industrial businesses and assess what kind of infrastructure they’ll need to be successful. For companies seeking to take advantage of digital technologies to help transform their businesses, the infrastructure question comes down to a simple answer: industrial edge data centers.
Industrial Edge’s Role in Digital Transformation
You’ve no doubt heard plenty about industrial edge data centers this past year and the role they play in the digital transformation of industries – Industry 4.0 as it’s known. Hopefully you’ve also learned about some of the requirements for successful industrial edge data center deployments. In this post, I’ll go through a few of the reasons why I expect the digital revolution will roll on in 2020 and beyond, only furthering requirements for industrial edge data centers.
The digital transformation commercial and industrial companies are undergoing involves instrumenting machines, such that they’re able to report on their health. It also means integrating operational, production and supply chain systems to bring more intelligence to the entire environment.
All of this creates a lot of data that has to be processed. As the Microsoft “2019 Manufacturing Trends Report” says: “For the modern manufacturer, data is no longer just the purview of IT; from supply chain management to the operations floor, data is now ubiquitous across the organization. As data becomes unified across the organization, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) can no longer operate independently and, as a result, are converging.”
What that means in practice is that IT equipment – servers, storage and networking gear – must co-exist in spaces with OT. These spaces – whether manufacturing floors, retail stores, restaurants, or rail stations – are often inhospitable to sensitive IT gear. That is driving the need for edge (and micro edge) data centers that include enclosures intended to protect and secure IT equipment in these environments.
Rise of “as-a-service” Models
“As-a-service” models have long been associated with cloud offerings, most notably software-as-service (SaaS). But the concept is now expanding to numerous other realms, including manufacturing and product-as-a-service (PaaS, not to be confused with the cloud-based platform-as-a-service).
While contract manufacturing has been with us for some time, digitization is changing the way products are designed and produced. “These changes have led to the expansion of Manufacturing as a Service, where businesses can leverage a shared network of manufacturing infrastructure – from machines and maintenance to software and networking – to produce goods,” the Microsoft manufacturing report says.
At the same time, manufacturers are getting in on the service game by offering a string of services to go with their physical products, such as installation, ongoing monitoring and maintenance. In so doing, manufacturers can forge long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with customers, rather than settling for a one-off product purchase.
Manufacturing Gets Smarter
A common denominator in all of these trends is the simple fact that in the Industry 4.0 era manufacturing is getting smarter, taking advantage of smart sensors, advanced data processing and technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to bring new intelligence to manufacturing processes.
These technologies enable new levels of automation in manufacturing, including self-monitored processes, machines and quality assurance routines. AI-driven computers and machines can detect anomalies in processes and machines and make human-like decisions on the spot to correct them.
Intelligence extends to products even after they leave the factory, with cloud-based monitoring and management capabilities reporting on the health of products and driving predictive maintenance capabilities. Maintenance services, for example, are far more effective when the product under warranty can report on its status and enable the manufacturer to delight customers by telling them when their product needs attention vs. the other way around.
Continued Focus on the Industrial Edge
All of these trends rely on reliable, secure, powerful compute power to be readily available at the industrial edge, whether that’s on a manufacturing floor or in a retail store. Taking advantage of these Industry 4.0 technologies means seeking out partners that can deliver all the required components.
Schneider Electric, of course, has industrial edge data center racks and enclosures suitable for everything from office locations to manufacturing floors, complete with power protection, cooling and security. We also have a strong lineup of alliance partners – including Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and more – to supply all the IT servers, storage and networking equipment you’ll need. That includes hyperconverged micro data center solutions that put it all in a single IT device and enclosure – perfect for the industrial edge. Lastly, we also offer software and services that provide real-time monitoring and management capabilities which is vital in distributed IT environments.
As we head into the 2020s, it’s clear Industry 4.0 technology will continue to dominate in the commercial and industrial space, as companies further their digital transformations. It’s equally clear that reliable edge data center solutions will play a significant role – and we plan to be with you every step of the way.