A lot of edge computing isn’t that far out on the edge.
Coined as a term to get us thinking about Internet of Things (IoT) deployments outside of the periphery and confined that normally defines the most immediate parts of our IT stack from servers to desktops to mobile computing devices, the need to power up compute at the edge has been part of the way we have created the web throughout much of the post-millennial period.
German softwarehouse Software AG has been talking about edge intelligence for most of this period; the company was one of the first tech organisations to showcase ‘emotion capture’ cameras at the CeBit conference and exhibition, when it still existed.
Software AG reminds us that edge computing often takes place on assets located in harsh or low-connectivity working environments and says that this is where so-called ‘thin edge’ lightweight, low-powered edge devices excel.
Philip Hooker, vice president, strategic programmes at Software AG says that thin edge devices can perform less-intensive analysis on a single or small number of connected assets but will do it in a semi-autonomous manner.
“If there is a problem, the device would ‘call for help’, alerting online platforms that there are vibrations or humidity measurements, for example, that are outside locally manageable thresholds,” said Hooker.
While an increasing number of IoT use cases demand a greater degree of local edge processing, thin edge developers are still grappling with the challenges of secure connectivity and app management.
Hooker suggests that this is where the open source thin-edge.io software framework comes into play. It offers simple, secure and reliable cloud connectivity to a range of cloud platforms.
Thin-edge.io is an open-source project which provides the essential secure cloud platform connectivity, application interconnectivity and device management capabilities essential for all connected products. Its ready-to-use modular components can be deployed on a wide range of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), protocol gateways and devices using Linux-based operating systems.
“Thin-edge.io is a collaborative project involving the lead contributors, ifm and Software AG, as well as a growing ecosystem of contributing partners, like Nexus, Inetum, ADAMOS, Brainboxes, Kunbus, and IPComm, providing their domain expertise. The framework’s extensibility allows enterprises to use community and commercial plug-ins, including streaming analytics and machine learning engines, industrial fieldbus protocol adapters, connectors to additional cloud platforms,” said Software AG’s Hooker.
The modular architecture of thin-edge.io offers companies the freedom to connect any IoT platform, use any programming language, adopt any message payload, deploy onto any hardware platform and leverage any software artifact, including Mender, Debian or Docker.
The framework’s plug-in mechanism also simplifies the integration with custom software. Comprehensive certificate management is built in with easy-to-use processes for both developers and operators in live deployments.
Three functionality pillars of IoT
Industrial equipment manufacturers need three things:
- secure cloud and hardware agnostic connectivity;
- robust device management and monitoring;
- software efficiency on resource constrained devices.
This is extremely problematic in a sector extremely focused on delivering to stringent bill-of-materials costs for development and productisation.
Addressing the connectivity challenge is not made easier by the lack of standardisation across the industry. Forcing enterprises to make early decisions that have potentially irreversible consequences. Until recently manufacturers had limited choices.
According to Hooker, “To solve the connectivity challenge, some enterprises choose to make sense of the jumbled technology landscape and build the connectivity adapters for their solutions themselves. This is a considerable undertaking and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially as embedded IoT software engineers are a scarce and expensive resource.”
Another approach is for enterprises to go all-in with one of the big cloud vendors. Embedding their vendor’s device agent or SDKs into the core software of the connected product and permanently tethering their fielded devices to the capabilities of the vendor.
“Being cloud, hardware and programming language agnostic allows enterprises to shorten time-to-market, reduce in-life software management overhead and future-proof their products. Ensuring that the connected products continue working at their peak performance throughout their lifespan, regardless of the evolving business, operational and cyber-security environment,” concluded Software AG’s Hooker.
The open source thin-edge.io project has now gone live with its 0.4 release, adding plug-in support for firmware and software management.