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IoT Platforms Manage the Edge

Within each Edge location, the remote management and monitoring of power, cooling, access control, surveillance, and network operation are a must.

Luke Dalske

Luke Dalske
Vice President,
BitBox Deployment & Integration

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Even the most casual followers of IT trends recognize that providers of Cloud, SaaS, and content solutions need to move their functionality closer to end users. Latency is the greatest obstacle to operational effectiveness and customer satisfaction. This has given rise to the Edge; which as a market has been exploding to accommodate the growing demand of these services. With this growth, however, comes a host of new concerns that were unimaginable for operators just a few years back.

Edge Connectivity

Edge deployments by nature are built to move data closer to the end user, hence instead of data being all served from a central data center, or a few datacenters; Edge solutions work by distributing the workload to what is typically hundreds or thousands of Edge locations;  geographically located at or near the end users. Though much smaller in size, these small Edge data centers still require much of the same infrastructure as large datacenter construction such as HVAC, security, backup power sources, etc.

What differs, however, is the sheer quantity; technological diversity of subsystems (e.g. different brands of equipment), and geographic swath. With all of this, maintenance is a complex issue. 24x7 staffing of these Edge locations is impractical, hence monitoring and management solutions need to be enlaced to take on the functions typically taken care of by on-premises staff.

The Edge monitoring challenge

Within each Edge location, the remote management and monitoring of power, cooling, access control, surveillance, and network operation are a must. This alone can be daunting to collect and rationalize between different protocols, technologies, and data streams. Historical attempts at collecting this data onsite often involved using SCADA, BMS, or even in-house-built solutions. Although these solutions often worked, they typically aligned with specific building technologies, better than others. (e.g., Building Management systems could handle cooling monitoring, but not concurrently deal with SNMP, and generator status information well). The need to normalize data from all these sub-systems led to complex and costly onsite commissioning and bridging.

Additionally, subsystem diversity was often a problem. A prime example of this would be that the first fifty sites may have one brand of generator, but a change in the construction process mandated a change which drives future sites to use a different generator. Changes such as this, though seemingly simple, typically led to site visits to alter a data collection or management solution to accommodate the different data topology. Customization such as this was expensive and unsustainable over time.

The real challenge, however, sat in a multi-site collection of data on a global scale. All location data needs to be collected between locations, organized, and represented flexibly to be advantageous; and yet agile enough to adapt to changes and growing needs of the enterprise. SCADA and traditional BMS frameworks simply were (and still are) not equipped to handle multiple sites, and even when possible, the costs of this model becomes prohibitive. The recent emergence of such IoT monitoring platforms as BitBox have attacked this problem from a different angle.

IoT Platforms in Co-Location Sites

IoT platforms, unlike BMS and SCADA, were built with the concept of diverse data at their core; and at massive scale compared to the BMS space, which at its heart were built on single buildings or at best a campus approach. Platforms such as the BitBox PaaS were developed for multi-site deployment from the start. Simplification is the key to these platforms, which enable mass rollout potential. A typical installation consists of a single purpose-built IoT communication appliance capable (the BitBox in this case) of speaking upwards of 80 protocols, at the Edge, that connect and collect all IoT and subsystem data. The unit then funnels all the data to a secure cloud location where it's organized and tagged. With this live and historic data-collection, the monitoring and analytics capability of the PaaS can be harnessed.

Beyond this, The BitBox platform allows for on-the-fly cloud setup of new locations as well as the aforementioned changes to data sources and technologies without the need to place individuals at specific geographic sites. The appliance is wired once, and one powered-up is thoroughly maintained in the cloud.

The key to a successful Edge deployment is able to see every location from anywhere and make intelligent decisions on when and where to take action. This universal visibility is the key to uptime while minimizing labor expense in a distributed environment. Accurate real-time monitoring is only possible with all of this co-location data in one place.

The BitBox PaaS offers a cloud-based user configurable dashboard allowing for a single source of truth to all the distributed infrastructure, globally. The built-in alarming support enables site alarms to alert operators that there is something amiss at one or more sites. Its "ranking order" determines the level of the alarm and the imperativeness of the problem. This configurable alarming hierarchy helps to limit ongoing operational costs by limiting the number of "truck rolls" to resolve an issue. It also allows for more monitored, preventative maintenance.

Beyond just monitoring and control, having an easily accessible central data source enables more refined analytics on a portfolio. Visualization and analytics possibilities are endless through an ever-expanding marketplace of 3rd-party micro-service companies that allow tailored insight and visualization for an enterprise with data at hand, through the consolidated API.

Distributed Growth

No doubt, the expansion of distributed Edge infrastructure due to the demands from cloud ecosystems and real-time services is now a constant. This growth fuels the need for comprehensive management and monitoring platforms to handle the unique requirements of this diverse Edge space. As the EDGE space matures, so do the technology solutions required to manage this infrastructure. IoT Platforms are the only natural progression for affordable management, given the growth trajectory of this market.

About the Author

Luke Dalske is the Vice President of BitBox Deployment & Integration. Dalske oversees deployment and integration of the BitBox monitoring platform, which simplifies the deployment, integration, monitoring and maintenance of distributed infrastructure from the core to the edge. He has over 15 years of power monitoring, generator control systems, PLC and SCADA experience. Prior to joining BitBox USA, Dalske spent nine years with Schneider Electric in its professional services division where he led sales engineering, data center systems design and implementation.


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