Why the edge has moved to the forefront

Remember just a few years ago, when everyone was talking about cloud computing? While cloud was consuming all the air in the room, few people were paying attention to another technology trend—one with the potential to transform industrial enterprises. I’m talking about edge computing.

The idea of placing computing resources at the network’s edge—at or near where production processes are occurring—is not a completely new idea. Industrial control has relied on distributed computers to control manufacturing machines and processes for decades. But as manufacturers come under increasing competitive pressure, the need to optimize their efficiency, productivity and quality has become a matter of survival. This imperative requirement is driving companies across the industrial spectrum to look at how pushing intelligence out to the edge can help them gain a competitive advantage.

We’ve all seen the images of manufacturing plants with rows of sparkling, computer-controlled robots welding auto body panels or assembling high-tech products. However, the reality is that many industrial enterprises have resisted modernization of their operational technology (OT) environments due to concerns over disrupting existing production processes and capital costs. But that’s changing.

One reason for this change is that these industrial enterprises can no longer ignore the age and inefficiency of their existing control infrastructures. Many processes are controlled by old desktop PCs or servers that are difficult and costly to patch and maintain and may not be secure. Then there’s “server sprawl.” In fact, one brewery we’ve worked with relayed a typical story. With each new application they deployed, a new server was added. Before long, they had no fewer than nine servers—all of which required time and attention to manage and maintain without the benefit of a fully staffed IT organization.

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