Is Edge Computing a secret weapon for industries?

edge computing for industries
Image by ra2studio | Bigstockphoto

According to many industry analysts, the onset of the global pandemic has spurred economies worldwide with renewed efforts to push ahead on their journey into the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Business and technology leaders are looking at beneficially harnessing the capabilities arising from 5G rollouts, artificial intelligence, cloud, big data and the internet of things (IoT) and other technologies. There are also increasing discussions of leveraging IT deployment models such Edge Computing, especially in industrial environments.

Michael Kurniawan

Edge Computing’s global market will potentially reach $215.6 billion by 2024, said Michael Kurniawan, Business Vice President of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division for Singapore, Malaysia & Brunei, in a recent interview with Disruptive.Asia. A veteran of more than 20 years of experience across the region, he is currently involved in Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division, focusing on driving the cluster’s adoption of digitalisation of data centre infrastructure.

Before discussing where edge computing sits today, he concurred that COVID-19 had disrupted organisations both locally and globally.

“The onset of the pandemic has called for organisations to rethink and re-strategise how they operate so they can become more streamlined and so achieve greater efficiency and productivity.”

Why Edge may change the game

Michael pointed out that today’s scenario may call for an array of solutions.

“Industrial companies can no longer rely on cloud technology alone for resiliency and efficiency. With the surge adoption rate in digital technologies such as Al, loT, 5G, and other Industry 4.0 technologies, industrial companies need a locally based data centre to store and process these data. Local edge data centres are IT infrastructure distributed geographically to enable endpoints on the network and it is applied in an industrial environment, this application is termed ‘industrial edge computing’.”

He said locally based data centres or industrial edge computing would benefit the industrial companies in various ways. Some of these are:

  • Reduced latency – Having the edge computing devices process data locally or in nearby edge data centres has reduced the distance for the data to travel under cloud infrastructure. By processing the data closer to the source and reducing the physical distance, end-users can enjoy high speed data processing.
  • Security – While traditional cloud infrastructures are centralised, edge computing distributes the processing, storage, and applications throughout a wide range of data centres and devices. Thus, this increases the security for any company in an event of a cyber-attack as users are able to seal off compromised portions without shutting down the entire network.

“Organisations are willing to invest in technologies that have clear ties to business outcomes,” he continued. “CIOs across industries realise that these technologies will require local processing and data storage to ensure implement successful Industrial Internet of Things (lloT) – which can be carried out by the industrial edge computing infrastructure.”

Indeed, the continued push towards digitalisation, the need for data processing, and increased storage capacity to cope with the proliferation of data may inspire organisations to adopt the ‘edge computing’ IT model. Confirmation of this trend came recently from McKinsey & Company, which asserts that organisations will continue to spend on the Industrial Internet of Things segment and expects to see spending of between $175 billion and $215 billion on edge computing.

A regional look at edge computing suggests that adoption is in line with global expectations. With the increased use of mobile devices further fuelled by the IR4.0 adoption technologies in the Asia Pacific countries, the deployment of edge computing is indeed needed and inevitable. A survey by Tech Research Asia (TRA) commissioned by Schneider Electric found that 28 per cent of IT leaders have already adopted edge computing with an expectation that 38 per cent more adopters in the coming years.

“The use of edge computing will continue to grow worldwide as the need to process more and more data increases,” Michael comments, adding that GlobalData said that the APAC region is expected to become the second-largest edge computing market behind North America with China and Japan accounting for most of the market, estimated at 61 per cent.

Potential within Industrial IoT

“Additionally, an investment in edge systems translates into more efficient and adaptive operations,” he said, and detailed certain benefits, some of which are summarised here:

  • Streamlined delivery and installation process — Often, edge computing systems comprise a mixture of various parts from multiple manufacturers, which can present some complexity for an end-user to install and start-up. To address this, some solution providers integrate these systems ahead of time, delivering them as pre-configured micro data centres. The micro data centre units occupy little floor space and come pre-tested and pre-loaded with management software as well as integrated IT and power, cooling, and rack components.
  • Dependable and consistent remote monitoring and support — Many end users want ‘set it and forget it’ worry-free edge computing solutions that experience minimum downtime. This requires managed service providers that can offer remote monitoring and maintenance services. Those services have to be delivered remotely because it is often physically impossible to provide the vast majority of edge sites with on-site IT expertise. If equipped with the proper software, edge systems components can be remotely monitored for any anomalies (such as excessive heat or humidity) and provide maintenance teams with early, predictive warnings of potential problems. Such an approach enables more rapid and proactive responses to issues and increases overall systems uptime.

Micro data centres

Turning to the micro data centres, Michael said: “When industrial operations are interrupted, the effects are immediate: loss of production, high restart costs, and reduced operational equipment efficiency.”

He said that a micro data centre enables the remote monitoring and management of industrial edge computing resources to address such issues and maintain consistent and rapid production.

“These solutions help to support resilient infrastructures by providing pre-configured, pre-tested systems that can be remotely monitored and that can be operated without requiring any on-site IT expertise,” he said. “They help operators avoid data latency issues by providing the on-site compute power needed for fast response and maximum uptime.”

As an aside, Michael revealed that in Singapore, Schneider Electric is partnering with companies such as HP, Dell, and Cisco to deliver server solutions integrated with deployment, security and management services.

“However, in Malaysia, there is still low adoption and awareness of edge computing,” he admitted. “So, there is a need to raise levels of awareness and education in this area of expertise.”

Rise of remote working

Looking ahead, he surmises: “The region is expected to make an economic recovery in2022, thanks to the accelerated rollout of the vaccination programme, especially in Malaysia. With an increasing rate of digitalisation amongst organisations, full resumption of economic activity could produce a data explosion resulting from the data produced.”

Analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2025, there will be 55.7B connected devices worldwide, of which 75 per cent will be connected to an Internet of Things (loT) platform. Data produced from the connected loT devices is estimated to be 73.1 ZB [zettabytes] by 2025, a drastic growth from 18.3 ZB in 2019.

With the expectation of data explosion as heavy adoption of Wi-Fi 6, 5G, Al and other Industry 4.0 technologies continue, edge computing will be a vital component to harness and process all information for machine and process optimisation.

On top of the benefits mentioned during the interview, Michael believes that organisations will soon realise that relying on on-site data centre support staff will no longer provide them with sufficient visibility through the deployment of edge computing.

He concludes: “As remote working continues worldwide, companies will look into upgrading their data centre infrastructure management to give adequate levels of visibility to the data centre operations while enabling them to perform maintenance and upgrade functions remotely.”

Related article: From Cloud to Edge – how Edge Computing will power the age of data

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