We want to manage data at the edge. It gives us information for making better decisions faster. It reduces IOT data storage and transfer requirements. And it can improve security. What are the challenges that we are bound to face?

IOT begins at the Edge

Managing IOT data at the edge faces several challenges: latency, bandwidth, reliability, security, and scalability. To solve these issues, we deploy intelligent devices to the edge. This, in turn, creates challenges in provisioning, monitoring, and maintaining these intelligent nodes.

Special solutions can be built for individual cases, however scaling such a solution is often difficult. Managing IOT at the edge requires more than managing and transferring data. It requires management of the edge hardware and software environment, too. 

A solution for managing these issues is to deploy an edge-computing platform. A commercial-grade edge-computing platform allows companies to deploy and maintain multiple solutions across an IOT network. 

One company that focuses on edge management solutions is IOTech. A recent presentation from IOTech covered edge deployment and edge device management issues.

The IOT Edge Computing Challenge 

Three key problems exist for edge-computing.
    1. Deploying applications to edge device nodes
    2. Monitoring and managing applications and data on the nodes
    3. Managing and maintaining the edge devices themselves 

And a fourth problem to wrap around the issues above is to manage these three points at a computing scale that could include thousands or tens of thousands of edge nodes. 

Deploy, monitor, and manage the IOT Edge at scale with help from IOTech

Deployment

You must prepare each edge node. A node must be ready to run your applications securely, and it must be registered within your management system. Your applications and tools must be deployed to the edge node.

This deployment entails installing or updating the edge system software. These software items include the operating system, firmware, and drivers.

The initial deployment must deliver application software to the edge device. The edge computing environment must support containerized applications, non-containerized applications, and virtualization. 

Monitoring

Every edge management solution must monitor edge nodes. The run-time status of each node must be monitored to maintain proper performance. Does the node have adequate computing resources to run properly? Are the sensors working? Does the data collection process have issues? Are the applications executing correctly?

Monitoring edge systems may need to handle non-typical computing challenges. For example, connectivity may not be assured at all times. Or when available, communication bandwidth performance may be limited.

Maintenance

After a successful deployment, even a perfectly running system needs maintenance. The maintenance may be scheduled, or it may be necessary based on monitoring information.

Maintenance may require application or system software updates. It may require stopping, restarting, and relaunching applications. It might require reinitializing the edge device. 

Security

The function of edge devices is to talk to “things” and communicate information to a management system. This must be a secure system. Importantly, this process of node management, monitoring, and maintenance must be executed in a secure computing environment as well.

Edge Management explained : IOTech is the Red Hat of the Edge.

Scale

Scalability is critical. When a system has a small number of edge devices, various edge management strategies are possible. That is rarely the case.

Any edge platform must be robust and secure. It must be open and flexible. Edge device management often includes thousands or tens of thousands of nodes, so edge management solutions must be scalable. 

Let me use my cloud tools

So, you are planning build up an IOT system and you are thinking, “I’ll leverage my team’s cloud experience for this”. There is overlap, but IOT management at the edge has unique issues.

Some of these issues are:

  • Edge devices can be resource constrained regarding computing and storage capacity. 
  • Deployments and management may include tens of thousands of widely dispersed edge nodes. Nodes need to be provisioned, monitored, and maintained using automated, zero-touch processes. 
  • Edge devices may have restricted or intermittent connectivity. 
  • IOT at the edge integrates specialty equipment and legacy devices which can’t easily integrate with modern enterprise and cloud protocols and services. 
  • Edge nodes are geographically dispersed. Potentially, security at the edge must adapt to local regulations. With a multitude of communication protocols in edge nodes, security implementations require fine-tuning for the specific edge environment. 

These items are not typical, well-understood problems in Enterprise and Cloud environments. 

Solutions

IOTech understands the particular problems that companies face when dealing with IOT management at the edge. While the problems are similar for all of their potential customers, the solutions are not.

IOTech believes in Open Source solutions and their business model is based on it. In short, they believe that open source solutions provide

  • Faster implementations
  • More cost effective solutions
  • Best of breed solutions
  • Flexibility in implementations and component selection
  • Ecosystem benefits via open source support from well-established industry partners and long-term availability of solutions.

The IOTech presentation introduces Edge Builder, and IOT edge management system. It is designed to address the issues described above. The software is in Beta now, and will be commercially available in Q1 2021.

The presentation is well structured and we leave it to you to watch the presentation here. If the issues discussed in this article on IOT edge management at scale seem familiar to you, then you will appreciate IOTech’s presentation.

A Final Perspective 

Managing IOT data and systems at the edge faces several challenges which can be addressed with intelligent edge-nodes systems. Those systems, in turn, require unique, scalable solutions to deploy, monitor, and maintain.

Building appropriate management solutions based entirely existing enterprise and cloud solutions is unlikely to succeed. Whether your final solution is based on open source technology like that from IOTech or on proprietary solutions, there is certain that IOTech’s presentation identifies the key hurdles you must overcome. 

IOTech CEO, Keith Steele, describes the company's platform at the last Hannover Messe (2019)

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