1660343342803 Satishgannuabbheadshot

Let's democratize the edge

Jan. 27, 2020

It’s time for common sense in connecting OT devices to the edge.

Waves of innovation in computing have proven one thing: standards make life easier. One example we take for granted today is device drivers; operating systems such as Windows and Linux offer standardized frameworks, so we simply plug & play our printers,

ABB Ability's Satish Gannu

keyboards and other peripherals using standards-compliant drivers.

It’s laughable to think of makers of peripherals competing on the level of “best driver.” The real competition is who can deliver the best user experience or the most productivity. The industry finally wised up and standardized driver frameworks, moving the competitive focus to where it should be: solving customer problems.

In my view, it’s time to adopt the same common-sense approach in connecting OT devices to the edge. Right now, companies providing IIoT solutions are competing in an area where competition really isn’t necessary, while costing customers the business-optimizing insights they hire us to deliver.

It’s time for our industry to develop standardized mechanisms at the edge. (Standardizing edge-to-cloud is a subject for another day.)

Our industry spends far too much time figuring out how to gather and move data when the insights that will solve customers’ business problems are created by analyzing that data. 

Real-world OT environments—factories, mines, power plants, logistics depots, etc.—are equipped with devices made at different times by different vendors. To glean maximum business value, our customers must get data out of their connected OT devices—an estimated 46 billion in the next three years, worldwide—to the edge for normalization. Strange as it will sound someday, right now there is no universal standardization in the layer that brings data from devices to the edge. There are two solutions to this lack of standardization in moving data where it needs to go…neither of them good for customers:

  • Currently, vendors have the responsibility to write software that communicates with all other vendors under the customer’s roof. This distracts vendors from developing better ways to solve customers’ real problems.
  • Customers using multiple vendors—that is, all customers—fritter their limited resources on multiple iterations of integration technology, using redundant proprietary SDKs and specialized container modules to normalize data and move it from devices to the edge.

We could end this waste of resources by letting customers securely connect devices to the edge as easily as we can plug a new printer into our PCs. How? Pretty much the same way: by using standardized drivers created by standardized, container-based SDKs.

A call to the IIoT industry: Democratize the edge to help customers 

The win-win solution is obvious. The industry should come together to develop a standardized, container-based SDK to create commoditized drivers to manage OT devices, collect data and normalize that data at the edge before it’s sent to the cloud for analytics that extracts the business value our customers need.

Competition is good for customers and vendors, alike. Competition forces us to improve our solutions, products and services. But vendors fighting it out on a level of technology that should be standardized—moving data from devices to the edge—doesn’t solve any customer problems, and it doesn’t differentiate vendors.

The takeaway: the wiser and more profitable course is for the industry to cooperate to standardize device drivers on the edge and compete on innovations that allow our customers to win.

Satish Gannu is chief security officer and group VP of architecture and analytics with ABB Ability