Expanding Functional Spectrum of Industrial IoT Edge Devices Driven by Escalation of Compute and Storage Requirements

By Chantal Polsonetti

Industry Trends

Expanding compute and storage requirements are driving expanding functional capabilities at the industrial IoT edge.  Originally viewed as the boundary between IT and OT, the scope of the edge and associated applications continues to evolve.  Escalating requirements for edge-to-cloud connectivity, as well as compute power and storage to serve edge computing requirements, is driving further evolution.  Edge devices of all types, including edge servers, network infrastructure, and endpoints are delivering ongoing price/performance improvements - furthering the convergence of compute/connect and continued downward migration of edge processing.

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“Thin” or OT Edge vs. “Thick” or IT Edge

The OT or “thin” edge is characterized by its primary role of converting automation-centric data to that which can be consumed in the IT environment.  This is true particularly for conversion of polling protocols typical to legacy industrial environments to more IT friendly pub-sub communications, like MQTT, that can serve data to any applications that choose to subscribe.  This conversion of legacy protocols continues to move further down in the architecture in order to make data more easily available throughout the IoT architecture.

Desire to process inputs at the edge and provide analytics-type outputs to cloud applications is driving edge compute and store requirements.  Resource-constrained thin edge devices, such as gateways, may not be capable of meeting these escalating compute and storage requirements for robust local edge applications.  This has led to introduction of more powerful and less expensive server-like IIoT edge appliances that emphasize these capabilities for on-prem operation. 

Descent of IT and cloud applications to the edge has led to the rise of an IT or “thick” edge that resides above the protocol conversion activity.  Hardware suppliers, such as Cisco, Dell, HPE, Stratus, and others, have responded to the emergence of this tier with edge server-like devices that contain the incremental compute and storage capacity necessary to host and execute robust industrial IoT edge applications.

Industrial IoT edge suppliers depict this tiering in a variety of different ways:  thick edge versus thin edge, cloud edge versus device edge, IT versus OT edge, etc., and several suppliers have already parsed their offerings to execute in the different environments.  Some view the distinction as ARM processor-based devices on the thin/OT edge and Intel at the thick/IT tier.  The bottom line is that industrial IoT developers and implementers need to incorporate this broadening spectrum of edge hosting possibilities into their deployment vision. 

IoT Endpoint Devices as an Edge Tier

Conversely, industrial IoT edge software platform providers, including the enterprise cloud players, are reducing their compute footprint to enable extension of their solutions all the way into intelligent endpoint devices.  These small footprint offerings typically target ARM or Raspberry PI type platforms.  Edge software offerings from non-enterprise edge solution providers, like Rockwell Automation and GE Digital, can similarly function on endpoint devices.

Material for this blog was generated from ARC’s new global market research report on Industrial IoT Edge Software Platforms.  For more information on this and other available ARC market research on the industrial IoT edge, see our dedicated IIoT edge research webpage.  You can also join the conversation about this exciting topic on ARC’s blog sites or LinkedIn Groups:  IIoT and IIoT Network Edge.


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