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Solving some practical IoT challenges

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Kathy Gibson reports from Dell Innovation Day in Copenhagen – The new trend towards deploying the Internet of Things (IoT) brings together the worlds of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT).

Dermot O’Connell, executive director: OEM solutions at Dell EMEA, explains that the challenges for IT are security, governance, productivity and lowering operating costs.

“In this environment, faster usually equals better and it changes rapidly,” he says. Cloud is probably already pervasive in IT, and there has been a strong move to consumerisation.

In OT, on the other hand, the issues tend to be the cost per unit produced and cost of goods sold (cogs), while energy consumption is important and customer satisfaction vital.

These systems are deterministic, run with dedicated equipment and slow to change. “And you won’t find any consumerisation in OT; these are highly controlled environments,” says O-Connell.

Where these two systems meet is the world of IoT, he adds. “IT is about people talking to people, while OT is about machines talking to machines. IoT is about machines talking to machines talking to people.”

While IoT sounds simple in theory, there are a lot of management challenges that still need to be overcome, and the number of sensors feeding data in from the field is likely to be the first hurdle, says Andy Rhodes, executive director: end user IoT solutions at Dell.

“In manufacturing, for instance, there are different systems that will be connected to IT. The sensors on these systems are all radically different, ranging from connected smart light bulbs to cameras to MRI scanners.

“There are about 20 000 different sensor manufacturers out there; so it’s not one world.”

The prevailing wisdom is for these various sensors to send data to either the data centre or the cloud, where it will be analysed and action taken based on the results.

“But in the projects we’ve been on, with practical deployments, customers tell us that’s ludicrous for many reasons,” Rhodes says. “Sending all the data from all the sensors to the cloud will cost a fortune – the latency and the round trip of the data makes no sense.”

In fact, about 99% of the data from these sensors is useless as it’s highly repetitive, he adds, and it only really becomes useful if there is a state change.

The solution appears to deploy IoT-specific gateways closer to the edge, which can analyse the data closer to where it is generated.

“If the compute is closer to the data, it can then be tiered to only what is needed can then be moved.

“In this scenario, companies can put in lower-cost edge devices and do 90% of the processing at the edge.”

Dell has announced the launch of its first dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) lab in Europe. Based in Limerick, Ireland, the lab will be one of the bases for the new IoT division focused on bringing together end-to-end IoT solutions that span hardware, software and services.

Dell has also announced its IoT division’s first gateway designed to help customers kick-start their solution development and begin realising the value of IoT immediately. The gateway is robust enough for the rigors of current projects and can also be leveraged as a proof-of-concept for use with future specialised Dell gateways.

Gateways are the most recent addition to Dell’s IoT solution stack. These small, wireless or connected devices collect, help secure and process sensor data at the edge of a network. Equipped with processing power, they provide customers with flexibility to perform analytics at the edge, reducing latency for data-based decisions, such as managing energy consumption or triggering a call for proactive equipment maintenance. This reduces the time and cost associated with transferring data to the cloud or data centre. Dell’s new gateways are a solid foundation for an IoT edge solution that conserves valuable network bandwidth by relaying only meaningful data back to the cloud.

The new Dell IoT gateway is compatible with multiple operating systems including Wind River Linux, Ubuntu and Microsoft Windows IoT. It is small in size but powerful, featuring an Intel processor with two cores to drive a wide range of IoT applications including building and industrial automation.

The gateway can be mounted on walls, desks, or other easily accessible areas of the building; and it has no moving parts so should give years of high-performance service.

Meanwhile, the new lab offers European customers with a dedicated space to build, model, architect and test their IoT solutions– and get them to market faster.

“As a global end-to-end solutions provider, Dell can support OEMs throughout their entire product lifecycle, from endpoints, networking, compute, and storage to large scale data management, analytics software and services,” says O’Connell. “In Limerick, customers will have a flexible and scalable foundation for developing market-ready solutions with a trusted, reliable partner. Our specialists in the lab can reduce the complexity of IT and help customers to bring their ideas to life.”