William Reed travels from his home in Round Rock, Texas, to support customers across the globe. But if you ask him where he loves to be most, he will tell you it doesn’t matter as long as it’s in the thick of digital transformation.
“We're in the factories, we're at the plant, and we’re at the mill, and we're looking at how transformation is occurring at the far edge,” says Reed, who is General Manager of Global Industries, covering manufacturing and retail with Dell Technologies. “We’re using data to really transform and make production faster, more efficient, and safer. What’s happening at the edge is exciting.”
Edge computing is a concept where data processing and analysis happen closer to where it is generated, rather than sending it all to a centralized location like a cloud server. With edge computing, computing power and storage capabilities are brought closer to the devices and sensors that collect data, reducing delays and improving efficiency.
By processing data at the edge, closer to where it is produced, edge computing enables faster response times, better real-time insights, and reduced reliance on a stable internet connection. It's like having a small computer right next to the devices, helping them make quick decisions and perform tasks without always needing to connect to a central server.
During a recent interview at LiveWorx in Boston, Reed said edge computing is maturing, and that’s exciting because manufacturers are now looking to do things they couldn’t before.
“Manufacturing is one of those bastions of the industry that has been doing things so well for so many years,” he says. “Manufacturers are now asking, ‘How do I disrupt without disrupting?’ or ‘How do I optimize without taking away from what my environments are doing today’?”
A Pinnacle sponsor of LiveWorx, Dell Technologies led multiple talks, breakouts, and panel discussions at the four-day technology event focused on bringing a new era of product lifecycle innovation to life. From cloud computing, to improving production efficiency, to optimizing hardware and performance, the company covered a lot of Industry 4.0 ground.
But for Reed, innovation at the edge is one of the most exciting components of digital transformation in manufacturing.
“Edge is providing us the ability to move closer to the data source, but still leverage a hybrid model. The term ‘cloud to edge’ is impactful, and it’s about the realization that a manufacturer can’t run all the data it needs at the cloud level. To get reliability and performance, it’s about being hybrid rather than pure cloud.”
Harsh conditions and remote conditions, along with sprawling deployments, and vulnerable systems pose significant obstacles for manufacturing facilities.
To harness the potential of edge computing, manufacturers have to find ways to transform vast amounts of data generated at the edge into actionable insights that drive improved productivity, enhanced asset utilization, and overall equipment effectiveness.
Turning large amounts of data at the edge into real-time insight is no small feat, and Reed points out success requires looking at what you are trying to do, and where you are trying to do it.
“If we're talking about consuming IoT data, that's very different from high-performance, high-frame rate computer vision or machine vision that you might see in security environments,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot of different data models emerge to leverage AI at the edge, and companies need a platform that can be flexible to different types of data, and location of data.”
Managing cybersecurity at the edge
As companies move data closer to the edge from one plant into many, a major technical consideration becomes security and protecting edge devices from cyber attacks.
Reed says protecting against cyber attacks requires a people-, process- and product-led approach.
“You have to look at how devices access a network, and where they are accessing it,” he says. “It could require firewalls, or leveraging virtual networking to limit an attack vector coming in, as well as detecting new devices.”
Devices that plug in and out of a network become potential liabilities if planning doesn’t account for that.
“You always have to plan for something to happen,” he says. “If something bad happens, how will you respond? How do you protect your IP? And how do you continue production?”
Reed looks at cases like this with OT security, IT security, and network security all as being parts of a bigger whole with a “cyber vault” at the center.
“You need the ability to identify someone got a virus, or malware inside your environment. And you need a good, recoverable copy so you can resume production and continue to manufacture. That’s the bigger story for manufacturers — especially as they scale up to multiple sites. They need that best practice.”
Late last year Dell Technologies announced an edge operations software platform called Project Frontier that integrates with its edge portfolio to allow customers to securely manage and orchestrate edge applications and infrastructure for deployments at global scale.
The solution aims to support companies that want to manage and secure data at source but lack the IT support to achieve it.
“Project Frontier addresses the need to manage dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of devices at the edge,” Reed says. “We can interact with applications that are running at the edge, and push to the edge as opposed to individually going and contacting or managing each individual piece.”
The end result is an IT organization operating in an OT environment and it can simplify updates or new code releases, and be able to test and validate in a safe environment in an environment that potentially has hundreds of gateways and thousands of endpoints.
“We're de-risking projects so our customers can get to time-to-value a lot faster and accelerate how they're rolling out without having to do all that extra heavy lifting to be successful.”