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Updates from the edge

Nov. 23, 2020
A Q&A with Stratus Technologies' Jason Andersen.

Coinciding with last week’s annual Automation Fair, Stratus Technologies and Rockwell Automation announced the launch of “Solution in a Box” process-control architecture for the fast deployment at edge locations.

Since edge computing was central to the programming at Automation Fair, and because the approach evolves at such a rapid pace, we connected with Jason Andersen, Stratus Technologies’ vice president of strategy, to get a status check. Take a look…

Smart Industry: How is edge computing enabling industrial organizations to be more nimble during / emerging from this pandemic? 

Jason: Organizations are having to do a lot more remotely especially with respect to servicing their machines and processes. Edge computing is helping with that in a couple of key ways. First, an edge-compute device deployment is combined with a connectivity project. So now these edge sites are becoming increasingly secure and connected to the internet or a corporate network. In fact, through technology like virtualization, the edge-compute device can deliver some of the security capabilities alongside remote access, thin client or other types of HMI software to enable remote operations. Additionally, we are adding more device specific management capabilities to ensure our edge-compute devices are easier to service, such as update management and multi-device monitoring to help organizations reduce the effort of servicing a new device, because adding new capabilities should minimize the need for new work to be performed.

Smart Industry: Are these changes permanent...will they continue once COVID is behind us? 

Jason: The industrials have had challenges the last few years with employee attrition and loss of institutional knowledge, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic may even be accelerating that challenge. So, I think these needs are going to stay and the demand for solutions like ours will increase.

Smart Industry: What industries / verticals have been aggressive adopters of these techniques / tools? Why? What industries are best positioned to take advantage? 

Jason: We think that the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing companies to seek out simpler and easier-to-consume solutions. And we are seeing a lot of thinking and action in two very different vectors. First there is the machine builders—particularly in pharma and discrete manufacturing—who are creating new smarter machines and processes. They want to enrich their customers with new capabilities and more consumable offerings. Then we are also seeing a lot of interest in energy  and building management, but those industries are looking for something more solution-based. That is why we are staring to do more solution efforts like the Solution in a Box we just announced with Rockwell; it provides end users a combined and easy-to-stand-up solution.

Smart Industry: Provide a summary of your case study with Buckeye Partners, which was featured during Automation Fair.

Jason: Buckeye is a midstream oil-and-gas use case for us. The company had grown and evolved through the years; there was difficult-to-manage infrastructure out in the field. This made it challenging to they lacked the flexibility to change as their business needs changed. Additionally, there were assets that could not fail nor be replaced. So, the task at hand was to find reliable, standardized infrastructure that could support existing and future technology. Buckeye met us and realized that a common edge-compute platform could solve their current and future needs and be deployed relatively easily.

Smart Industry: What most excites you about this space as we approach 2021? 

Jason: I get really excited to see that we are moving into solution discussions vs. pure technology. That is when you start to see customers and companies collaborate and make a new technology real and meaningful from a business perspective. Up until now, edge computing had been driven by a few visionary companies and leading edge customers. It was difficult for most people to see its value in context. Now, people are starting to get it and demand more, which is great news.