The New Frontiers of Computing

By Bask Iyer, General Manager for Edge Computing/IoT for Dell Technologies and VMware

Victor Hugo said: “There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

Sometimes, an idea’s time takes years to come. Consider the lightbulb: Edison started lighting up parts of Manhattan in 1882, yet his idea was not embraced by the majority of U.S. homes for more than four decades. Why did it take so long for lightbulbs to truly shine? Simple, really. While the idea was brilliant, the technology to make it practical—fine tungsten filaments, pervasive electric grids, etc.—had yet to be fully realized.

Like the lightbulb, IoT was ahead of its time. Believe it or not, the first IoT device was a toaster created by John Romkey way back in 1990. Building automation has been around for at least a decade, and smart-home thermostats were introduced eight years ago.

So why is enterprise IoT taking so long? As with the lightbulb, a lot of work had to be done to make the idea truly practical. But I believe the time has come for IoT. The question becomes, should you launch headlong into Edge and IoT, or should you take a “wait-and-see” approach?

There will always be risks to innovation, and people will always resist change. But I have good news: We’ve been hard at work engineering an Edge and IoT architecture that is open, flexible, compatible, and secure, and paves the way for you to move ahead with confidence.

The Connected Edge

I love to explain the Edge and its importance by citing NASA’s Mars Rover project. Mars is so far away that during the Curiosity landing, if there was a problem, it would have taken 13 minutes for the radio signals to reach Earth and at least 13 more for the response to make it back. A lot can happen in 30 minutes, namely the whole Curiosity landing!

The delay, of course, is due to the speed of light. To keep the Mars Express spacecraft flying safely, NASA made sure the required computing and commands were on board so all the relevant information could be close to the action. That is the Edge—where compute acts on data in real time.

The Connected Edge, or IoT, represents the best of both worlds, where devices and computers can work together unsupervised—such as the Mars Rover—while also being connected to nearly infinite storage and processing in the cloud. And although connections can potentially increase security risk, the benefits of Edge and IoT are too great to ignore.

IoT data is already fueling the engines of AI and other emerging technologies that impact every aspect of life. We’re seeing this impact as customers across many industries successfully use Edge and IoT.

For example, top-selling protective eyewear brand Uvex monitors machines, protective wear, and environmental parameters in real time to maximize worker safety on construction sites and in factories. Siza, a not-for-profit organization that provides medical and technology support to people living with disabilities, uses IoT-based monitoring and alerting capabilities to predict if a patient might need assistance and send help. AeroFarms, too, is transforming agriculture with indoor, IoT-equipped vertical farms to increase yields 390X over traditional farming—with 95 percent less water.

Best Practices for Enterprise IoT

The opportunity for IoT and Edge is significant, but there are challenges. The most pronounced is that, in business, the demands of “right now” can outweigh the demands of tomorrow.

But the danger of de-prioritizing Edge and IoT is that the business will implement the technology without IT’s involvement. These shadow projects create serious bumps down the road, including not being able to scale device management, manage large volumes and diverse types of data, or ensure security and compliance.

Capturing IoT’s full potential to enable data-driven decision making will require leaders to embrace innovations in technologies, change business models, and invest in new capabilities and talent.

Despite these challenges, the IoT and Edge train has left the station, as the number of “things” continues to grow exponentially. Capturing IoT’s full potential to enable data-driven decision making will require leaders to embrace innovations in technologies, change business models, and invest in new capabilities and talent. To thoughtfully deploy and run your Edge and IoT environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Join forces. Build relationships across OT, IT, and business decision makers to gain enterprise-wide expertise.
  • Simplify device management. Free up IT and operational personnel by automating device detection, configuration, and management.
  • Be smart about data. Lower storage costs, bandwidth requirements, and security risk with comprehensive data-orchestration tools.
  • Speak a common language. Build your solution on infrastructure that connects and integrates heterogenous communication protocols.
  • Integrate security. Minimize data and network exposure by delivering timely software updates to your Edge devices and applications.
  • Prepare to grow. Easily add more and new types of “things” with a flexible, scalable architecture, and vendor-neutral management tools.

The Time Has Come

Even at this early stage, IoT has already made a real impact, proving that the digitization of machines, vehicles, and other elements of the physical world is a truly powerful idea. I believe IoT will accelerate our ability to generate even more groundbreaking ideas and propel human progress. Its time has come.