In my last blog post, I went through how to use four key considerations to decide where best to store, process, and analyze data generated by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications. Given that in many cases the answer points to various forms of edge computing, in this post I want to explore how to ensure availability in industrial edge sites by focusing on power, network, and security.
As the last post detailed, companies generally have three options for where they want to store, process, and analyze data: on-premises, near-premises, and off-premises. Roughly speaking, that equates to industrial edge computing, larger regional enterprise or colocation data centers, and cloud data centers.
Why companies are turning to edge computing
More and more, industrial companies are digitizing various processes as part of their digital transformation efforts. That is driving the need for compute, network, and storage resources that are close at hand.
Examples include a story of a manufacturing company that installed an automated quality assurance (QA) system for a manufacturing line, where a series of cameras on a robotic gantry perform some 90 different QA checks. Sending the video to a cloud-based data center for analysis to decide a pass or fail grade took over 20 seconds. As a result, the company had to slow down the manufacturing line, which was unacceptable. So, it switched the video analytics processing to an on-site edge computing solution and reduced the response time to one second.
Similarly, in warehouses we’re now seeing the strategic use of robots. One example is a food distribution warehouse where robots pick orders that are delivered directly to customers — instead of having humans shop in supermarkets. That requires artificial intelligence applications to process the orders and a lot of compute power to control the robots. The large volume of orders, the up- and down-stream logistics, and the control of the entirely automated robotic fulfillment is driving the need for edge computing.
3 keys to availability at industrial edge computing sites
Such applications are crucial to the business, so the edge computing systems that drive them must always be available — just like a centralized data center. Ensuring high availability means paying close attention to three crucial elements: power, network, and security.
Ensuring continuous power
Power is a fundamental element for most any process, digital or otherwise. In an IIoT application, all the sensors and devices that generate data require power, as do the computer systems that process that data. To ensure these systems can function even in the event of a utility power failure requires a backup power plan.
Such a plan should include an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that can power at least some devices until the power comes back. For devices like sensors that draw little power, a UPS could provide anywhere from 5-10 to 90 minutes of power. In cases where a backup generator is on site, a UPS may provide power for just a short time until the generator kicks in, ensuring that the process remains functional throughout.
The network ― a critical connection
The network is crucial because if you generate data but can’t get it where it needs to go, the data doesn’t do you any good. Here again, networks require power to operate, whether it’s the router that provides connectivity to the Internet and other outside resources, or the switches that support the network within the facility. In terms of wide-area connectivity, you’re also at the mercy of your service provider; if its network goes down, so does yours.
Edge computing helps minimize the risk of a network outage because you are no longer dependent on your network service provider to ensure processes remain operational. So long as the network inside the facility remains functional, it’s business as usual. And here again, UPSs and generators can help ensure continuous operations.
Ensuring physical and cybersecurity
Finally, as soon as you start sending data around, you need to address physical and cybersecurity on an end-to-end basis. In terms of cybersecurity, you need to ensure data is encrypted and otherwise protected against unwanted intruders, such as by using firewalls, virtual private networks, and intrusion detection/prevention systems.
Physical security is equally important, to ensure IT resources deployed at the edge are not compromised. It requires the use of sensors and perhaps cameras that can alert if an unauthorized person is attempting to access the edge computing resources, such as servers. Someone with ill intent who can access those systems could potentially break into the network and wreak untold havoc. So, edge computing resources need to be protected in proper enclosures that have locks or card readers that ensure only authorized users can access them.
Last but not least, remote monitoring is a good idea for distributed edge network deployments because IT infrastructure expertise is not necessarily available on-site to detect and address any abnormalities.
Resources to enable industrial edge computing availability
If you’d like some help determining whether your power, network, and security stance is strong enough to ensure the availability of your edge computing solutions, join the Schneider Electric Exchange. On the Exchange, you can connect with experts for advice and find qualified service providers who can help ensure the edge computing solutions that power your IIoT applications will be highly available and delivering value day in and day out.