Edge computing is the key to unlocking IoT
By Robert Linsdell*
Friday, 06 April, 2018
Edge computing is the perfect solution for Australian firms looking to capitalise on the IoT revolution.
There has been plenty of talk lately on edge computing, but despite its prevalence there is still a lot of confusion over what it means, and an even larger disparity between what benefits it can actually bring to businesses.
We conducted research across Asia Pacific and found that almost one-third of respondents were not fully aware of edge computing. Only 40% feel they have a comprehensive understanding of the technology, and just a third have infrastructure in place to manage edge requirements.
The edge represents entry points into enterprise or service provider core networks. This traditionally included routers, routing switches, desktop computers and so on. In recent years, the edge has exploded as we’ve added tablets, laptops, smartphones, wearables and more to the equation.
The long-anticipated and rapidly developing Internet of Things (IoT) landscape means we’re creating more and more data than ever before from edge devices. Processing that data doesn’t happen by accident or without putting infrastructure in place to manage it.
The reality is that we don’t have the networks and bandwidth in place to ship that volume of data through the cloud or into large core data centres to process it. Even if we did, it’s not a pragmatic or cost-effective way to do it. It’s far more efficient to process the lion’s share of that data on the edge of the network, at or close to where it’s generated, through smaller ‘edge data centres’.
Australia poised for edge
Australia needs to develop its edge infrastructure faster than most. Our dispersed population and vast distances between remote areas where data is being created and the nearest ‘traditional means of processing it’ (larger data centres in populated areas) mean we must create a network of edge infrastructure as part of a hybrid IT strategy to keep pace with our ambitious plans for IoT.
Think about the use of facial recognition at an event such as a grand final. Hundreds, potentially thousands, of cameras are scanning the faces of everyone in attendance to provide vital aid to public safety organisations, track how people are using services and facilities to provide useful data to retailers, and a host of other reasons.
At this point, I don’t need to tell you that it’s not possible, nor logical, to filter all that data through to any kind of data centre in a different location. The best approach is an edge data centre in the stadium processing the majority of data and trickling small amounts through the network as needed.
Benefiting from the edge
We’re already working with a number of customers here in Australia who are benefiting from edge technology.
In Sydney’s Barangaroo, Fitness First opened its first ever dedicated mind and body studio, The Space Studio. It features 90-minute hot yoga classes at 35°C using specialty heat pads on the ceiling and side walls of the studio. This takes place right beside where the IT infrastructure sits.
It goes without saying, but data centres typically prefer cooler climates and are not built to withstand this kind of temperature without assistance. Traditional cooling fans could help, but their noise level would disrupt the yoga classes.
Vertiv deployed its SmartCabinet, a fully integrated single-rack data centre that contains power protection, power distribution, cooling, monitoring and infrastructure management, to keep both the IT management and ambience of the classes in shape, and provide the studio with a simple scalable infrastructure to develop new digital and potentially IoT-related services over time.
In Melbourne, financial advisory firm Vesparum Capital recently engaged Vertiv, alongside its partner Intuit Technologies, to provide its Smart Max and help the company leverage data analytics, machine learning and increased security through simpler and more scalable IT infrastructure.
The company’s earlier IT environment was a ‘white box’ set-up, with different pieces of infrastructure in different parts of the office. Over time, this created an imbalance between its IT environment and the technological capability Vesparum required to provide best-in-class advice to its clients.
The SmartMax sits neatly in Vesparum’s offices and houses the Dell EMC XC Series powered by Nutanix Enterprise Cloud OS software. The complete solution can scale with Vesparum; allows it to meet its infrastructure needs without having to invest in a large, expensive data centre room; and is enabling its IT department to develop new innovative services over time.
Edge and the bottom line
One of the key business considerations in any IT-related decision is its potential impact on the bottom line. Traditionally, IT was considered to be a cost centre, but the increasing importance of digital services and automation of tedious ‘firefighting’ tasks have meant that, if done the right way, it can be a profit centre.
Our research has found that businesses could save upwards of 50% on data centre spend over five years.
This is down to a number of factors. Space is a key one — edge data centres don’t require organisations to spend hundreds of thousands, or possibly millions, of dollars to design and construct a dedicated room.
Reducing power is another major factor. We estimate data centres consume almost 5% of power in Australia. While there are ways to optimise efficiency in any data centre, modern edge data centres carry a minimum carbon footprint and are hard to beat in terms of energy.
Another key consideration with the edge is the vendor consolidation it can bring. Data centres usually contain a healthy mix of different vendors’ solutions. Dealing with such an array of different companies can mean multiple quote requests, purchasing agreements and payment terms — all of which is time-consuming and unnecessarily complex.
Because of this, CFOs and procurement departments are increasingly favouring vendor consolidation. Moving to the edge simplifies that process and means there is only one go-to company if anything goes wrong.
Perhaps most importantly, the edge has the power to fulfil the long-awaited promise IT has made to make our business lives easier. No more firefighting for the IT department, and easy-to-manage applications and digital services that help achieve business goals for the entire organisation.
The edge is ripe for development in Australia. Businesses that recognise the simplicity, digital enablement and cost benefits attached to it will gain a competitive advantage and be in pole position to be an industry leader in the uncertain new world of IoT.
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