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With this growth comes the need for easier ways to ensure the availability of applications that run critical operations at the edge and collect and process data.
Paige West, Editor of PBSI's sister publications DPA and Connectivity, caught up with Jason Andersen, Vice President, Business Line Management at Stratus Technologies, just after the company released the first product from its edge computing strategy in the UK earlier this year.
What is edge computing?
Edge computing puts processing power closer to where measurement and decision-making occur in the control loop. There has been an expectation in industry that many tasks would be associated with the cloud due to the amount of processing required. However, organisations today are finding they don’t have the connectivity required throughout their operational technology (OT) infrastructure to send massive amounts of data to and from the cloud. Nor do they have the time, and often there are security concerns too. With edge computing, data is collected, processed and actioned on-site, and not in the server room, but where the application is running – at the edge – and most importantly, in real-time.
As soon as process information management becomes real-time, it must be protected to ensure that server downtime doesn’t result in operational downtime. In a recent market report by ARC Advisory Group, more than 90 percent of those surveyed indicated that as edge computing grows, organisations will need a simplified edge infrastructure that can be remotely managed.
Introducing the ‘Xbox of edge systems’
The ztC Edge is the first product of Stratus’ recently announced edge computing strategy. It’s a zero-touch (zt), fully virtualised and self-protecting computing (C) platform, specifically designed for industrial edge environments. With built-in remote management and user-installable in less than 30 minutes, the ztC Edge significantly reduces the IT burden for virtualised computing at the edge. Its self-protecting and self-monitoring features help reduce unplanned downtime and ensure availability of business-critical industrial applications.
The ztC complements Stratus’ existing range of server technologies but is designed around a very specific point and need – to run business critical industrial applications quickly and reliably on the edge of the operational application itself, including in remote locations. The minimal IT requirements of ztC Edge combats skills issues around the convergence of IT and OT on the plant floor, as well as the challenge of getting IT and OT technicians to remote locations in the enterprise network.
With these challenges in mind, the ztC is built around three core principles – Simple, Protected and Autonomous (SPA).
Andersen talks about the design process for meeting the simplicity challenge. How can I get this device like an Xbox? How can it be easy to set up and use straight off the shelf? The ztC is delivered in one box with everything you need inside. It works as a paired system so plug it in, hang it on the wall and connect the two together. You only need to configure one, the other automatically pairs with its twin.
Protected brings together all the availability features Stratus have been promoting throughout its 35+ year history. The ztC’s rugged form factor gives it the flexibility to be deployed outside of traditional data rooms or data centres (it’s DIN rail-mountable) and its self-protecting capabilities make it ideal for unmanned stations or remote locations with limited IT resources. Over time, more features will be added – cyber security and monitoring capabilities will be enhanced, so the end-user can really begin to understand what’s going on at the application level and start to see the system taking care of itself.
The ztC’s self-monitoring features help reduce unplanned downtime. It can monitor over 100 different points on the system and each new release of the ztC will increase the options available. For example, an autonomous security monitoring system will particularly benefit sites where there are limited human resources. Having the ability to prevent sabotage on remote sites at the system level is of extreme importance as industry moves forward with digitisation.
Purpose-built for OT, the ztC helps bridge the divide commonly found between IT/OT. Quite simply, its hot-swappable design makes it possible for plant operators and technicians, rather than specially trained IT admins, to repair the ztC when necessary. As companies become more involved in the Industrial Internet of Things, adopting new infrastructures and Big Data, the need to close the IT/OT gap will become more apparent.
The future of the edge
The requirement for a different type of infrastructure is still an angle that needs to be pushed. This is what will help enable the adoption of world-changing ideas people and businesses are talking about, such as hyper-personalised manufacturing, or ‘lights-out manufacturing’.
As industry moves forward, according to Andersen, Stratus will be seen less as an availability player and more as a catalyst for the adoption of technology that allows the provision of business-critical information. As a result, the company needs to start thinking about things in a more solution orientated fashion. Its partnership with like-minded companies across the world, most notably Rockwell Automation, will help achieve this. Stratus will also continue to invest more into the edge space; already the company has brought in new people over the past 12 months who are dedicated to this area and can help take the company and its solutions forward.
The original article can be found in the September 2018 issue of DPA magazine.
For more information on the ztC Edge, visit the Stratus Technologies website: https://www.stratus.com/solutions/platforms/ztc-edge/
About the authors:
Paige West is Editor of Design, Products & Applications (DPA). Working at the IML Group for three years, she previously worked on two other IML titles, Electronic Product, Design & Test (EPDT) and Panel Building & System Integration (PBSI). Paige graduated from the University of Greenwich in 2014 with a degree in English Literature.
Jason Andersen is Vice President of business line management and is responsible for setting the product roadmaps and go-to-market strategies for Stratus products and services. He has a deep understanding of both on premise and cloud-based infrastructure for the IIoT and has been responsible for the successful market delivery of products and services for almost 20 years.
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