I am sure you know the difference between OT and IT professionals, but what about their different approaches when it comes to the edge and edge computing? OT specialists are ultimately looking to buy a solution to oversee all their daily elements and processes. On the other hand, while IT specialists tend to go deeper on computational aspects, edge computing can appear to be “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to their priorities. However, to get any type of innovation to flourish in this space, some of these skill sets need to cross-pollinate. We’re seeing some customers start to reorganize themselves at the edge in manufacturing or energy. They’re reorganizing to take advantage of this new cross-pollinated skill, which we’re coining “hybrid OT.”
This shift in mindset is reminiscent of how more widespread adoption of the cloud began taking off several years ago. In order to speed up application productivity and wait times, developers stopped calling the help desk and started purchasing from public clouds—a process that was called “rogue IT” at the time. Truthfully, people were just looking to move faster, but they ended up learning something incredibly valuable in the process. They were forced to learn how to perform access control, build databases, and manage those databases. This officially birthed the DevOps movement.
So what is Hybrid OT?
As an abridged case study, one of our customers, a cooperative dairy products company with more than 40 processing facilities, is implementing hybrid OT into their systems. This dairy company makes a variety of products with a milk base, including yogurt, cottage cheese, and protein powders. Because they’re a cooperative, they are owned by about sixteen thousand independent farmers, who are bringing products daily to their processing plants.
This customer is in the process of upgrading these plants by adding Ethernet, virtualization, and servers—all mission-critical systems. However, they will ultimately want to manage the process in such a way that they can track the progression of milk from the cow to a consumer’s house. This can be invaluable in case of a recall; our customer would not want to recall thousands of products that aren’t tainted if they can pinpoint only the ones that are. OT employees are now tasked with figuring this out in efforts of transforming the business and saving significant amounts of money. Stratus is helping them do just that by upgrading their plants with the appropriate technology.
So, What Does the Future of the Edge Infrastructure Really Look Like?
The first major requirement is that providers must make it simple. Simplification for these future hybrid OT resources takes into account that personnel will become more knowledgeable, but they’re likely not going to have the time to deal with it. Providers like us have to do that first, and it has to be zero touch and edge-specific. For instance, if you’re starting to deploy functionality onto a cell tower, it needs to be waterproof and be ruggedized for dust-proofing and temperature sensitivity.
The answer lies in a converged edge-ready format, as well as a strong backend service and support network to protect you. People are buying differently already. There are new companies, new technologies, and new ideas coming to the floor, so companies want their analytics to come from an analytics vendor, and they want their PLCs to come from a different type of hardware vendor. Businesses want to mix and match it.
We’ve been working on building a new type of converged edge platform – ztC Edge – which will be generally available this spring. It’s an industrial form factor computer that supports enough VMs to support your typical OT apps and your historians, while also supporting other types of applications, such as real-time analytics or standardized encrypted gateways. We provide the hardware and the operating system, which is fully fault-tolerant and Linux-based. We think many businesses will benefit from having a highly robust operating system with an easy-to-use user interface, and a full backend support system that calls us if any issues arise.
As it is with many things, simplicity is a key enabler to success, and one we heavily weave through all our always-on products.