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Sometimes a company thrives on a single slice of the IoT ecosystem. Edge routers say. But for big players like Dell Technologies, winning comes with defining the whole stack, offering the full IoT portfolio. And it may also mean making some smart acquisitions.
Pick your vertical, Dell EMC says to resellers and systems integrators, and we will give you reference architectures -- what the company calls blueprints -- that spell out the instruments and their motifs, if not the actual notes and refrains.
It's a symphony in four movements: device, fog, data center and cloud.
At the device level, its embedded PC, announced in February 2016, controls a robotic arm, say, a digital sign or a wind turbine, and communicates sensor data upstream to the edge gateway. Fanless and ruggedized for harsh environments, this is Dell's beachhead in the industrial PC market, where it claims the advantages of well-oiled supply chain, international regulatory approvals, management software and support.
Kevin TerwilligerIoT solutions director, Dell
Its IoT edge gateway operates at the fog level, where computing that may have formerly taken place in the cloud descends to Earth. Here, quick on-site analysis can recognize sensed conditions that require immediate, reflex-like intervention, whether human (send a notification, stop the production line) or automated (it's too warm, turn up refrigeration, or we detect smoke, bring the elevator down to the first floor).
As the name implies, the edge gateway is also what aggregates data from a diverse range of legacy and new sensors and protocols. It's the intelligent filter that prevents expensive shipment of irrelevant data. It's also where security tools and hardware (a TPM chip) bar hacking of devices, and encryption protects data on its way to the data center or cloud.
In the IoT portfolio: Edge gateway for immediate, data center for longer term
Asked to name gateway deployments, Dell IoT solutions director Kevin Terwilliger mentioned an automotive manufacturing floor, where thermal imaging cameras watch a robotic arm apply a bead of adhesive for a windshield insertion. A too-thin bead has led to product recalls. Eigen Innovations developed the software analytics atop the Dell gateway that alerts operators to this fault. The operator, on his end, can confirm or reject this fault detection on his mobile app. Over time, the data center or cloud-based end of this system learns what variances can be tolerated and refines the cameras' judgment.
Another vendor, The Weir Group, deploys the edge gateway with pumps that go into dams in remote locations. These can relay intelligence that saves a service technician from having to helicopter into the site.
Dell has yet to write case studies of its embedded PC, but does have wins to share: One deployment in Canada embedded them in subway track-side monitors to provide location/track/time updates to waiting passengers. A telco is building network function virtualization appliances to run in a chain of coffee shops. Each location can pick and choose the network functions they want to purchase from the telco provider. A virtual vending machine, it will supply, for example, Wi-Fi, security or WAN optimization.
IoT meets Dell's traditional server market in the data center and the cloud. It also meets the hyper-converged and virtualization assets acquired through its EMC merger in September 2016. "Dell had assets in that area -- things like our FX architecture and our VRTX products," Terwilliger said. "But the merger with EMC Federation really strengthened that offering, with all of its converged solutions, like VxRail. Such turnkey solutions play a critical role in an IoT architecture as on-prem appliances." Terwilliger locates these converged appliances -- combining VMware hypervisor, compute, storage and networking -- in the fog layer as well.
Omnitracs, a Dallas-based company that's been in fleet management almost 30 years, is a good example of an IoT customer now in Dell's base by virtue of EMC. Monitoring vehicles and drivers, its application is data-rich, using many truck-mounted sensors and cameras to fine-tune routing, scheduling, dispatch, maintenance, loads and fuel consumption with predictive analytics and big data modeling. Its VP of data and IoT solutions Brad Taylor recounts that up until very recently its data-analysis infrastructure was tied to more proprietary telematics devices and OSes, making it ill-suited to cloud or hybrid cloud.
"We have a large footprint in a major data center," Taylor said. Among its assets there are EMC's VBlocks, converged infrastructure appliances combining Cisco servers and networking hardware, EMC storage systems, and running NSX network virtualization from VMware, 80% owned by EMC. "We have customers who want to give drivers tablets as well as have specialized devices. We manage them through different platforms, but we want to maintain that same cloud visibility for both," Taylor said.
To remain agile and embark on new big data and predictive analytics initiatives, Taylor said, Omnitracs is moving from data center to hybrid cloud, "where we can roll out a private cloud in a virtual infrastructure, to space we've leased outside our own data center, for development and testing." To control that process, Omnitracs expects to expand its usage of Dell EMC and its Cloud Foundation software-defined data center. This is an integrated stack of VMware's vSphere, vSAN and NSX that orchestrates hybrid cloud infrastructure for the enterprise. Taylor said, "We believe its further development in Cloud Foundation will help us ensure that we can still effectively coordinate our own customers' telematics and IoT business."
At the data center level, Dell's Terwilliger also lists Virtustream and Pivotal among the new IoT portfolio assets coming as part of the EMC Federation. Virtustream is an infrastructure as a service platform aimed at cloud migration, and Pivotal, cloud-native application development. There are more members of the expanded family: A white paper by Moor Insights & Strategy, offered by Terwilliger, lists RTI for distributed analytics and RSA for security. Dell Boomi is a cloud integration SaaS, and Statistica, an advanced analytics platform, comes from Dell's acquisition of StatSoft a few years ago.
Add to the IoT portfolio: Third-party IoT apps and tools, OEMed gateways
Dell's IoT Partner program also welcomes third-party vendors in application development, analytics and security services. One heard often is FogHorn, named associate-tier partner in June, an "intelligent edge" software platform that hosts high-performance processing, analytics and heterogeneous applications closer to control systems and physical sensors at the edge. In other words, it hosts closed-loop device optimization without looping as far as the data center. Another is ThingWorx, a platform of automated analytics, real-time pattern and anomaly detection, simulative and prescriptive analytics, and automated predictive analytics. Dell's professional services division has joined the ThingWorx System Integrator partner program and showcased several IoT deployments with its gateway, particularly in home health monitoring.
According to Terwilliger, the main IoT activity happening now is concentrated in manufacturing, energy, transportation and logistics. At the first Dell EMC World event, held in Austin in October 2016, Dell showcased 15 solution partners, each building for different use cases. Each provided a "blueprint" that described its analytics, apps and controls for its vertical specialties, as well as components of the Dell EMC IoT portfolio. One such partner, KMC Controls, has cloud-enabled its sensor-based building management solution via customized Dell Edge Gateway 5000 and branded it KMC Commander.
Dell EMC has recently opened IoT developer test beds in Round Rock, Texas, and, with Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif., and Singapore. As for the human element of Dell's IoT commitment, there's its IoT-specific partner program, now numbering over 50. "We're looking to help our customers cut through complexity by curating the best partners across different use cases," Terwilliger said. "We spend a lot of time qualifying them on top of our infrastructure, and then we'll help them go to market, as we reach out to the customers Dell already has."
Analyst Maribel Lopez at Lopez Research agrees that Dell EMC has gone from having one piece of the IoT puzzle -- the edge gateway -- to having influence far up the IoT stack. "The gateway is not the linchpin of an IoT solution," she said. "That's just one piece, in a highly competitive space. But now, Dell can build a pretty compelling reference architecture that leverages several Dell technologies and those of other partners. And now that it's so much bigger, partners will find it more interesting than they have in the past."
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