Most companies in the consumer and industrial space are undergoing a digital transformation to at least some extent as they seek to gain business efficiencies and opportunities from Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and more. In the process, they’re finding they need more compute power not just in centralized data centers but in myriad distributed locations, creating the need for industrial edge data centers.
Whereas once a server or two and some network switches would suffice to meet local computing needs in a retail store, manufacturing plant, warehouse, or healthcare facility, the trend toward digital transformation changes the equation. IIoT sensors and devices generate massive amounts of data that must be processed in or near real time by AI/ML and other applications in order to generate business value. In many cases, these include customer-facing applications intended to drive interactions and sales.
All of these trends are driving the need for more local compute power at distributed sites, including powerful hyperconverged infrastructure that combines server, storage and networking in a single enclosure. Because of their real-time nature and need for low latency, such emerging applications cannot rely on remote cloud-based infrastructure.
Protecting IT equipment at the industrial edge
As demand for compute power increases, so does the need to properly protect this distributed IT infrastructure. Because the infrastructure supports applications that are critical to the business, it must be protected in much the same fashion as centralized data centers, in terms of physical security, power protection, cooling and more.
It’s a particular challenge in the commercial and industrial buildings where traditional wiring closet space is not available. Instead, the IT equipment may have to live in the same spaces where employees are working and perhaps even where customers are. In many cases, these spaces present environmental challenges, including excessive heat, cold, vibration or dust. In others, such as a restaurant, the equipment has to be protected from unauthorized access by employees or others who may not fully understand its importance.
Consider fast food restaurants, for example, which are increasingly rolling out digital kiosks to enable customers to place orders, with no cashier involved. Those kiosks house computers and networking equipment that must be protected from intentional or inadvertent disruption by customers and employees as well as against power disruptions that can take them offline. What’s more, they need reliable connections to additional edge computing devices, likely located in a back-of-the-house location, that accept and process customer orders.
Manufacturing facilities present other challenges, including potentially significant vibration and dust, and perhaps extreme cold or heat. Edge computing equipment in these locations must be physically protected from such elements while, like the retail example, secured from unauthorized access and provided with power protection.
Purpose-built enclosures for the industrial edge
These are not insurmountable challenges, by any means. Many organizations are turning to new, innovative solutions that offer data-center-like resiliency in industrial edge sites. One such solution is micro data centers which are evolving to meet this challenge particularly for commercial and industrial applications where security and harsh environments can be a challenge.
For example, Schneider Electric’s 6U Wall Mount allows heavy edge servers, networking equipment, and UPSs to be safely mounted on a wall, saving valuable floor space. It has a low-profile form factor, similar to an electrical panel, that makes it less conspicuous as compared to standard floor-based rack solutions. It provides physical security, electrical power protection and distribution and can be monitored remotely. Its integrated dust filter and fan ventilation make it ideal for light industrial environments.
In short, the 6U Wall Mount is another option for enabling commercial and industrial customers to support critical business operations in non-IT environments and further their digital transformation efforts. To learn more, check out this short video where I’ll walk you through the unit so you can see for yourself. You can also visit our 6U Wall Mount EcoStruxure Micro Data Center page.