February 26, 2021

What is IoT and Edge? (Week 1)

What is IoT and Edge? (Week 1)

Everyone has a different name for the consistent terms you hear around technology. They can be called industry terms, important ideas, etc. I like to call them buzzwords, in software development especially, the terms change so quickly and the focus can pivot at a moments notice so playing buzzword bingo is often a favorite pastime of mine. It seems like with every new buzzword a cloud of confusion follows. IoT and Edge are not new concepts but recently they have been thrust into the forefront of almost every company’s initiatives. With these new initiatives comes new technologies, business models, companies and even education requirements. If you are reading this and thinking “I can do all of this on my own” then please go read my blog post on the case for partnering. Technology and rapid innovation go hand in hand, no company can survive the quick changes on its own. Edge/IoT presents newer problems that a company has to overcome in order to be successful. Security concerns, hardware requirements, SaaS expectations in an on-premise environment, terminology definitions, and how to train your current employees on these new requirements. For this first of two posts I will discuss what I think Edge/IoT is and for my second post I will discuss some of the concerns to show what Red Hat is doing to combat them (hint if you know my job title you can probably see where this is going).

Before we can get into the issues that will be faced we have to understand what Edge/IoT really are. Due to the fact that Edge is generally viewed as the parent of IoT we will start with Edge first. If you look at the progression of computing all of the work used to be done at the datacenter level. The first “computers” were simply terminals connected to a mainframe. This was due to size limitations, computer components were so large that only a few choice locations could house them. Progressively, however, components have become smaller and cheaper and this can be seen by the evolution of a computer. We moved from mainframes to personal computers to pocket computers (smartphones). Now we can run resource intensive applications on smaller and smaller devices. Edge Computing (shortened to Edge) is simply the next step in that evolution. It is the idea of moving data and application processing closer to where the end result is needed.

The easiest example that I use to show Edge Computing is with oil rigs. Historically data processing for oil rigs was sent via satellite to a data center where it could be processed and then sent back to the oil rig for application. As can be imagined this process is time consuming, expensive, and requires expensive equipment. Implementing an Edge strategy makes sense when the data being processed is specific to the oil rig doing the processing. Installing infrastructure that allows the rig to process its own data can cut down on cost, time for decision making and can help the location operate autonomously. Hopefully this example of Edge Computing helps convey the need for an Edge strategy and while this was an example in Oil and Gas the use cases and need for Edge are extensive and cover all industries. If you are interested in others feel free to reach out or do some research online to find use cases that fit your needs.

With the parent of IoT out of the way we can delve into IoT more. My background is more in IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) but the lessons learned are applicable to other industries. Being a subset of Edge, IoT is pretty much what it’s name implies. It is an interconnected network of devices that can be used for processing, collection and communication. It is essentially the realization of an Edge strategy. It is the network of physical devices that can be used to help exchange information. A simple example of IoT is all of the smart sensors and devices that you may have in your home. Whether those be thermostats, smart bulbs, security cameras, smart media devices, etc. All of these devices connect together to form an personal IoT and connect into the greater IoT ecosystem.

This post has served to set the stage for my second post around Edge/IoT.  Next week I will discuss the concerns that can come up with an Edge/IoT initiative and how partnering can make its case to help you and your company be successful. I want to end this post with a discussion point. To those who are familiar with Edge/IoT what is a common use case you use to describe what Edge/IoT means. To those who aren’t familiar with Edge/IoT, you have no doubt heard about it in some regard, what is your Edge/IoT story?