January 2018

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What's Happening at the Edge of IT/OT Convergence

Includes an interview with Jason Shepard, Dell Technologies Director of IoT Strategy
Therese SullivanTherese Sullivan,
BuildingContext Ltd

Contributing Editor

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Technologies with the power to transform lives, industries, and societies almost always spring from the meeting of science and art. Author Walter Isaacson has documented how innovation happens at these crossroads in his biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. His book The Innovators is a compendium on the topic, offering highlights from the lives of other ‘hackers, geniuses and geeks’ that made the discoveries that have led us to today’s digital revolution. This moment in Tech feels particularly transformative in that the silo mentality that has kept various engineering disciplines apart and evolving along different lines is breaking down. Experts in enterprise computing, telecoms, embedded systems, automation & controls are all contributing their brain power to a common goal—realizing smart and connected systems, aka the Internet of Things (IoT).

Brain Meld Bldgs

To be working on the IoT-enablement of a big commercial building or campus today is not just to be at an intersection of tech and the art of human-factors design, it is like merging onto a multi-lane super-highway of tech and design considerations. In my article of last month, I quoted a few people navigating this experience, and they offered some reliable pointers about what to expect next—what approaches, technologies and companies are likely to win out as IT and OT converge. For example, Gerry Hamilton, Stanford University’s Director of Facilities Energy Management, made the key observation that modern servers are now designed for virtualization.  And Paul Maximuk of Ford Land Energy agreed with the trend toward virtual servers, and he said that Ford had installed a more secure wireless and IP infrastructure while phasing out any serial connections. In other words, if you are not in the process of standardizing connectivity and grouping the applications used for building operations onto a networked server architecture rather than maintaining them on individual servers, you are not future-proofing your facilities. You are not getting IoT-ready, to cite the hashtag Ken Sinclair invented to promote our participation at AHRExpo 2018 (#RUIoTReady).

VMware, one of the IT brands under the Dell umbrella, has long been at the forefront of the virtualization trend, and Dell Technologies is an IT partner to a number of respected independent building automation and controls companies like Kodaro and KMC Controls. Plus, Dell is sponsoring Walter Isaacson’s podcast, Trailblazers, about digital disruption and innovators using tech to enable human progress. So, I thought, “Who better to ask about the coming together of IT/OT than Jason Shepard, Dell Technologies Director of IoT Strategy?” He offered this insight:

“The move to the cloud over the last decade was already a convergence—that of IT and telecoms. Information Technology and Operations Technology coming together in the IoT is a natural next step. That earlier convergence ushered in cloud-native principles like loosely-coupled microservices, virtual machines, containerization, and platform-independence. One outcome was Cloud Foundry, an open source, multi-cloud application platform as a service (PaaS) originally developed by VMware and years later passed to a 501c organization for governing. It is a flexible framework for cloud developers that offers just enough of a common platform to interoperate. We recognized that IoT developers needed a similar framework, so last year we launched EdgeX. EdgeX FoundryTM is a vendor-neutral open source project hosted by The Linux Foundation. It is a hardware- and OS-agnostic reference software platform supporting an ecosystem of plug-and-play components, in this way unifying the marketplace and accelerating the deployment of IoT solutions.


“Adoption of a standardized framework like EdgeX empowers IoT app developers to dynamically optimize where and when compute and storage should occur in the edge to cloud continuum for optimal results and lowest overall cost. I call this performing “analytics of the analytics.”  As part of this, developers will increasingly realize the importance of microservices and decouple “things” from applications.

“To understand the real advantage that this gives in the context of a commercial building, consider the situation of a building owner, tenant, outsourced facilities/energy management provider, insurance carrier all wanting to use aspects of the same sensing infrastructure. EdgeX makes such multi-tenancy possible. Each party that wants to integrate the sensors with their own applications can do so at any point from edge to cloud. In this way, each provider can better control their own destiny compared to relying on another party to aggregate and potentially filter and charge for data access in their cloud. The EdgeX community is seeing end-customers quote the framework into projects for the benefit of lock-in avoidance alone.

“Customers, realizing the powerful benefits of sensor-driven analytics, will increasingly move their workloads from public clouds to the core and the edge. Edge computing is advantageous not only for the reasons of latency, security, privacy and network bandwidth that industry experts widely agree on, but also to minimize the total cost of the lifecycle of their data. As part of this, more customers will appreciate the value of edge gateways for real-time action, first-pass edge analytics and applying security measures — not just as a necessity for converting data streams to IP traffic.  On a slightly longer time horizon, AI and machine learning workloads will continue to shift towards the edge — even into sensors themselves — but the core (e.g., localized micro-modular server clusters to full-blown on-premises IT data centers) will be tasked with the heaviest of real-time streaming analytics due to the responsiveness and reliability benefits of being on the same local area network as things and processes at the edge, compared to relying on a wide area network to the cloud. The bulk of deep learning will continue to be done in the cloud due to infinitely scalable compute, but end users will use private cloud and increasingly the core to perform deep learning in order to keep control over their data.

“Regarding security concerns, it’s important to recognize that adequate, well-proven tools exist to address foundational security needs today, and the well-publicized breaches are generally the result of these tools being poorly implemented, if at all. In all cases, implementing security measures involves working with people that know what they’re doing and who practice defense in depth rather than promoting some single magical answer. We should be concerned but not paralyzed because the latter limits us from achieving value and risks getting left behind. In 2018 we’ll see more innovations to simplify the secure onboarding of devices and to manage security certificates in scale. While gateways are the first line of defense for dumb sensors, another area ripe for innovation is extending root of trust to smart sensors at the very edge where data originates. The result will be soup-to-nuts trust and providence throughout the data lifecycle.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]“To summarize, it is taking a while for OT end users to get comfortable with the risk versus reward equation of connecting their critical processes to broader networks for business gain. It has been challenging to make the business case and align stakeholders across IT, OT and the lines-of-business involved. But that is poised to change in 2018. We are seeing OT technology experts increasingly partner with strong IT players (and vice versa) rather than trying to reinventing foundational IoT elements themselves. In general, the winners across the board will have strong partner strategies and an open philosophy.”

Note that Project-Haystack is an EdgeX Foundry member. You can read more about the fit for Haystack-compliant data models with EdgeX core services in this presentation given by Satish Ram, Director of IoT Technology Partnerships, Dell, last spring at the Haystack Connect conference.

I’ll be on a panel discussing Growing the Open Intelligent Edgeat the AHR Conference, Mon. January 22, 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM | S103A where I can share more about what I’ve learned on the topic by talking to innovators last year. I would like to extend a big ‘Thank You’ to the AHR Expo organization for the support they give our industry in planning such events and inviting and hosting speakers like me.                                                                                                                                      


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