Industrial edge: The game-changer for digital transformation
Through the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0 will transform asset-intensive industries by digitalizing processes and systems across the entire value chain. This transformation will have a major impact in the operational technology (OT) environment, which provides the capability to monitor and control physical processes, systems, devices and infrastructure in the production environment. A recent report from Technology Business Research, Inc. estimates that telecom edge compute spending will reach $90 billion in 2026.
Edge computing stimulates a series of new use cases that are sensitive to data sovereignty, cybersecurity, resilience and latency. Among the many types of edge computing, mobile edge computing and industrial edge, also known as on-premises edge, are the most discussed. Hyperscalers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft offer IT-intensive and storage- and compute-oriented edge capabilities to enterprise customers. However, these capabilities are not optimized for running mission-critical applications such as real-time analytics, rapid incident response, robotic automation and mixed reality, or for seamlessly connecting to a wide range of wireless technologies, including 4G LTE, 5G, NB-IoT and Wi-Fi.
Enterprises need a good strategy for decentralizing computing power to keep pace with the growing demand for real-time data analysis and automation. In a recent report on applications and edge computing for private LTE/5G networks, Analysys Mason predicts that investments in edge computing will reach US$1.3 billion by 2030.
The drastic increase in data collection, processing and analysis imposes a heavy workload on the infrastructure and creates the need for edge solutions that can help mitigate this challenge. Enabling these actions in real time is essential for a successful digital transformation. According to a survey we conducted in 2022, close to 80 percent of enterprises that have deployed private wireless or are considering deploying private wireless say they have deployed or are planning to deploy industrial edge solutions, too. I’ll share more detailed findings in my next blog.
The role of edge in private wireless networks
Enterprises need an end-to-end digitalization platform that includes a mission-critical private wireless network, a complementary Wi-Fi layer, on-premises edge computing and industrial devices to guarantee the always-on connectivity required for fully digitalized OT and IT operations. A good edge strategy helps consolidate the compute resources and promote seamless integration and adoption of different types of wireless connectivity. An industrial edge is connectivity agnostic, which ensures that the evolution to future, next-generation wireless connectivity technologies will be smooth and hassle free.
The on-premises edge is the most preferred edge option for enterprise digital transformation. It supports a large number of industrial protocols, is resilient and is optimized for high-performance workloads such as those associated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). With an on-premises industrial edge, an enterprise can count on simpler data orchestration, automated workload lifecycle management and end-to-end service performance management, all of which accelerate OT transformation. An industrial edge also integrates a wide range of industrial applications and industrial devices, such as the most commonly used handheld devices and wearable cameras.
Turning legacy applications into cloud-native applications
An industrial edge is built for mission-critical tasks that demand strong security, fast response times and ultra-high availability. It also complements cloud compute for non-mission-critical IT applications and IoT sensors.
There are two fundamental requirements for adopting an industrial edge:
- A high-performing open-source platform that supports Industry 4.0 applications, including legacy non-cloud-native workloads
- Good compute resources to facilitate data analytics while maintaining top-level security and ease of management through a central cloud-based portal or an on-premises console
Distributed edge: Keeping it close to the heart of the industrial applications
The physical proximity between the applications and the industrial edge is critical to latency, reaction time and application performance. According to a 451 Research study on distributed edge clouds, 25 percent of enterprises want compute performance at the edge.
There is a common argument about whether the on-premises edge should be placed on-site where the industrial applications are or in a local data center that supports multiple sites while maintaining good or even great latency for mission-critical applications. It is undeniable that either of these approaches will provide better near-real-time performance for mission-critical applications than putting edge on cloud while offloading IT or non-mission-critical applications to a public cloud.
Enterprises can optimize edge capability by centralizing data processing from the application edge to the site edge. This approach involves integrating data collection, analytics, management and security into the same hardware and leveraging the benefits of low latency to support real-time compute.
Make industrial edge the center of your digital transformation strategy
Enterprises cannot rely on private wireless connectivity alone to deliver and maximize the value of digital transformation. Edge, with its connectivity-agnostic nature, plays an important role in leading and centralizing the compute resources and connectivity technologies. With legacy machines and applications that require backward compatibility and connectivity technologies such as LoRaWan, unlicensed spectrum and legacy Wi-Fi, it is essential to have good transition, orchestration or integration with private LTE/5G connectivity while maintaining operational capability for the applications.
For example, our partner Cellnex Telecom has combined its edge compute solutions with our private 5G solution for a trial at a BASF site in La Canonja, Tarragona. This trial will pave the way for BASF to implement Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications.