Edge Data Centers: The Promise and the Peril

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The following is a guest post from Michael Kanellos of OSIsoft a member of Dell’s Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Partner Program.

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Where we put computing assets changes with the times.

In the 1950s and 1960s, computers were housed in centralized rooms. Desktops distributed computing power across organizations in the 1980s. Then, ten years ago, the cloud began to gain momentum and you saw companies shut down their own data centers and migrate applications to data centers that rivaled the Pentagon in size.

But guess what: the next counter reaction is already underway. Companies are discovering that trying to migrate all of your applications to the cloud generates bandwidth congestion, latency and cost. The recent attacks on some large data centers have also pointed up the risks of centralization.

Edge data centers—i.e. modular pods containing half rack to four racks of computing equipment along with the necessary power and cooling systems–won’t replace clouds. Instead, they will supplement them, particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things. An edge data center could be installed at an offshore wind farm to conduct predictive analytics or manage equipment. Intel, among others, estimates that 40 percent of IoT data will never make it to a centralized data center: it will be consumed, analyzed and stored where it was generated with only necessary snapshots of performance or critical data streams being sent to headquarters.

Similarly, carriers can locate them in metropolitan neighborhoods to cache videos or other content to improve service. Some early market forecasts predict that edge data centers could become a $6.8 billion business by 2020.

But here’s the rub. How do you manage thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of servers spread across a geographic region? This is the challenge OSIsoft and Dell EMC’s Extreme Scale Infrastructure (ESI) division have set out to solve. You know who Dell EMC is, and its ESI division delivers tailored solutions to large, scale-out markets like carriers and service providers. OSIsoft is probably less familiar but there’s a good chance you’re using our software as you read. We produce software that helps utilities and other large organizations capture and organize data from transformers, oil drilling platforms, production equipment, pumps and other devices. Water utilities use our PI System to help predict demand (or prepare for floods) while brewers use it to maintain an even fermentation across their beers.

Dell EMC ESI and OSIsoft are developing best practices for integrating the PI System into its micro Modular Data Centers (MDCs) to monitor electricity consumption, avoid peak power charges, detect early warning signs of failure and other tasks.  This data is collected via a Dell IoT gateway where tier 1 analytics can be applied before sending relevant data to the cloud.  Performance data of fleets of micro MDCs can then be served up to operations dashboards or made available over mobile phones.

OSIsoft and Dell EMC have worked together since 2013. The PI System, for instance, is integrated into Dell EMC MDCs deployed by some of the largest cloud providers. The PI System data has helped these customers reduce human error, compare the performance of different modules, automate processes like PUE analysis and make data center commissioning a more repeatable process.

A lot of attention is directed to the center, but keep your eyes on the edge. And for those attending Dell EMC World next week, be sure to stop by the Service Provider and Industry Solutions Pavilion to see Dell EMCs micro MDC in person, along with our joint demo that shows operators how they can administer and manage MDCs from all over the world as well as the associated IT from a single point of control.

Michael KanellosMichael Kanellos is a technology analyst at OSIsoft where his job is to write about the impact IoT will have on our lives. He’s been covering Dell for decades.

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