Network Management at the Edge: New Solutions Will Take Edge Computing to the Next Level

Network management tools designed to command the ever-expanding web of assets at the network’s edge will make the new computing paradigm more powerful than ever before.

As more and more industries invest in edge computing solutions to reduce costs and improve performance, businesses are having to face up to the challenge of managing networks with complex edge deployments. The challenge, in other words, of how to effectuate centralized management over a decentralized network of edge devices.

When poorly implemented, edge deployments can serve to obscure network operators’ visibility into into the performance of their networks. In which case any speed or efficiency gains you get from the edge could be offset by performance issues incurred from that deficiency in visibility.

But new tools are on the way — tools designed to solve this fundamental difficulty. To this end, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) recently unveiled the Edgeline System, which represents nothing short of a breakthrough in edge management.

Challenges of Managing Edge Computing

Businesses are finding that connected sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices offer unprecedented insights into processes, environment, and situations. And a growing percentage of data is created and processed at the edge. Although this currently accounts for only about 10% of data production, Gartner predicts that number could rise to 75% by 2022.

As data creation has moved to the edge, computing (i.e. analysis) has followed (see: fog computing). All things being equal, analyzing data nearer to its source fundamentally alleviates bandwidth issues, reduces latency, boosts reliability and improves cost-effectiveness.

At the same time, edge computing presents some unique challenges. Although reducing the amount of data being transferred to and from the cloud eliminates one potential cyber attack vector, IoT devices can also be particularly vulnerable to hacks themselves, giving hackers easy points of entry into other parts of the network. Nor are IoT and edge devices typically designed with built-in redundancies — a flaw that can lead to data loss if any one device is damaged.

The fact that these systems exist on the edge does not mean they don’t still need to be managed centrally. And the same limited connectivity that makes edge computing such an attractive solution is the same drawback that makes edge devices so inherently difficult to manage. Aggregating data from the edge is a challenge — and that includes the data that network managers require to monitor, provision, and reconfigure network assets.

In many applications, it’s not enough for just one edge device to run smoothly; in the case of self-driving cars, for example, each vehicle must be able to communicate with the others in real time, or else the system doesn’t work.

HPE’s Edge Management Solution

In June 2018, HPE promised to invest $4 billion to develop edge computing tools, including hardware adaptors and the Edgeline OT Link software platform.

The suite of new tools includes the Edgeline Integrated System Manager, which is designed to help businesses manage edge infrastructure and applications without sacrificing security. This tool helps companies work with remote systems even in cases of weak connectivity or limited IT knowledge, and can be scaled to manage thousands of edge systems.

The product promises to enable faster system health updates for edge devices, and give network managers better control over edge devices — even during periods of poor connectivity. Security benefits include a feature that prevents system boot files changes, as well as remote system disablement in the case of a security breach.

IT/OT Convergence

As OT systems like surveillance cameras and safety systems gain connectivity, the need improved coordination between OT and IT has become critical. HPE aims to solve that with the Edgeline EL300 Converged Edge System, which allows for enhanced coordination between IT and operational technology (OT) systems.

The EL300 — which represents an entirely new product category — automates the relationships between OT applications and IT operations in order to better enable autonomous decision-making at the edge, and enhance both security and safety through improved reliability. It allows for not just faster insights, but deeper, more valuable information.

Deploying edge systems can be a challenge in OT environments, due to uncertain or harsh conditions. Edgeline takes environmental conditions into account — it’s resilient against shock and vibrations, resistant to humidity and dust, and operational at a wide range of temperatures.

Companies at the Edge

In nearly every industry, companies are seeing the benefits of edge computing — and facing the challenges of managing it. In the energy sector, everything from oil rigs to solar panel installations are benefitting from edge computing — and better management will only augment these benefits. Companies like Centerpoint Energy are already implementing these HPE capabilities, using data generated by the grid to optimize how they deliver energy to their customers.

In manufacturing, producers have become increasingly reliant on sensors and IoT tech to improve operations and maintain safe working environments. As industrial companies implement newly compatible systems across data centers and the factory floor, departmental priorities can lead to conflicts or costly miscommunications, and tools like Edgeline offer a potential solution for more straightforward management.

And in healthcare, operational technologies are crucial to protecting patients — connected devices can include anything from a patient monitor to an insulin pump. Meanwhile, hospital IT keeps the network running and protects against cybersecurity threats, as hackers present a continual and potentially devastating threat. A system that analyzes and processes data at the edge may allow for less risk, plus reductions to data latencies that can mean the difference between life and death.

Implementing Edge Management Solutions

HPE’s most recent product launch is just the beginning of a major shift in the industry, as software and hardware developers continue to seek out ways to tame the increasingly sprawling web of edge devices. A range of businesses could theoretically see benefits from these tools, allowing them to grow cost-saving systems at the edge without introducing new network management complexities.

But they’ll need the right partner to do it. The network experts at Turn-key Technologies have been helping businesses across industries to incorporate emerging network management technologies into their operations. With nearly three decades of experience, our professionals are ready to help your business capitalize on the benefits of edge computing without the need to completely overhaul your existing infrastructure.

By Craig Badrick

January 11, 2019

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