Reducing unplanned downtime at the edge

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    With the increasing adoption of edge-based systems and Internet of Things  technologies, there is a growing need for simplified infrastructure that can be remotely managed. Louise Frampton reports

    For organisations with critical business applications, each minute of unplanned downtime can have severe repercussions on the company – from lost revenue, to not meeting service level agreements (SLAs) and brand reputation damage. This exposure to risk is a continual concern to CIOs and COOs, and is a key reason why more IT decision makers are looking to implement fault-tolerant or high availability solutions. 

    In fact, 38% of respondents to a survey undertaken by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) on behalf of Stratus Technologies said they plan to increase the number of production platforms protected by always-on infrastructure in the immediate future.

    “Unplanned downtime continues to be a huge vulnerability in today’s IT systems and, alarmingly, the vast majority of companies are not even tracking downtime with a quantified measure of cost,” says Jason Andersen, vice-president of business line management at Stratus Technologies. 

    “We believe that with the increasing adoption of edge-based systems, including Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] technologies, the costs and risks associated with downtime will continue to trend upward.”

    This is going to become a significant issue in the near future. Research from Gartner predicts that, by 2022, more than 50% of IIoT analytics will be performed at the edge, compared with less than 10% today. 

    The promise of edge computing in industrial environments means getting the right device data in near real time to drive better decisions, and even control industrial processes. However, for this to work, the edge device, its embedded software, edge servers, the gateways and Cloud infrastructure need to be operating correctly at all times.

    In today’s industrial environments, companies are faced with mounting pressure to be more efficient with fewer resources. At the same time, industrial technologies are becoming more powerful and more connected, yet are being deployed where there are little or no IT resources. The influx of data from these technologies and devices is driving the need for – and growth of – new edge computing infrastructure.

    The ztC from Stratus

    According to research from IDC, revenue of edge computing infrastructure will reach $3.4bn (£2.58bn) in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 22%, with IoT and IT/OT convergence driving most of this opportunity. 

    With this growth comes the need for easier ways to ensure the availability of applications that run critical operations at the edge and collect and process this data. In fact, in a recent market report by ARC Advisory Group, more than 90% of those surveyed indicated that, as edge computing grows, organisations will need a simplified edge infrastructure that can be remotely managed.

    Virtualised computing at the industrial edge

    Stratus Technologies, which specialises in continuous availability solutions for mission-critical applications, has developed ztC Edge to address this growing need. 

    A zero-touch, fully virtualised and self-protecting computing platform, the technology is specifically designed for industrial edge environments. 

    ZtC Edge is designed to reduce the IT burden for virtualised computing at the edge and can be installed by an end user, with no prior knowledge of the system, in as little as 30 minutes. 

    Greg Hookings, head of business development – IIoT, Stratus Technologies, comments: “Meshing information technology and operational technology is a challenge for industry. It is not simply a case of ‘sandwiching’ the Cloud onto your operational infrastructure. At the industrial edge, we are taking information technology facets and operational technology facets and creating a new technology layer. We need to get away from the complexity of IT.”

    Key features include:

    • Built-in virtualisation for up to three virtual machines, each running different industrial control or IoT applications 

    • Automated application and data recovery 

    • Automated site recovery 

    •Rugged, hot-swappable nodes that can be wall- or DIN rail-mounted 

    • Cloud-based health monitoring and built-in remote management services 

    Through pre-installed virtualisation software, and user-friendly configuration tools, ztC Edge simplifies the process, and shortens the time it takes to get critical applications up and running. It can manage up to three virtual machines, each running different industrial or IIoT applications. 

    Stratus ztC Edge is comprised of redundant nodes that act as a single system. With live migration of virtual machines, data replication, and redundant networking, it instantly provides protection for applications and data. The system continually monitors itself, evaluating its health and performance. 

    If ztC Edge detects a potential central processing unit (CPU) or memory failure in one node, it proactively moves virtual machines from one node to the other, ensuring application continuity. Its self-protecting and self-monitoring features help reduce unplanned downtime, making it suitable for unmanned stations and remote locations. 

    Doosan: fuel cell technology

    Doosan hydrogen fuel cell

    These features make ztC Edge an ideal solution for Doosan, a provider of sustainable energy solutions. The company is using the technology to ensure uptime for remote power solutions around the world. 

    Offering 98% availability, Doosan’s hydrogen fuel cells deliver more than 440kW of electricity and 450kW of heat, have a low carbon footprint and near zero, ultra-low emissions. The fuel cells operate without combustion, so are virtually pollution free. 

    Since the fuel is converted directly to electricity and heat, a fuel cell’s total system efficiency is far higher than conventional power generation equipment. The fuel cells provide environmentally-friendly backup power and heating for a wide variety of applications – including data centres, hospitals and utilities – and are ideal for applications where traditional renewable technology is unfeasible. 

    Uptime for the Doosan PureCell units is ensured through the application of FacilityConneX software, designed to deliver energy savings and operational efficiency through smart asset monitoring, diagnostics and advanced predictive analytics. 

    The software is claimed to reduce costs by up to 35%.

    FacilityConneX CEO Tom Schiller explains: “Stratus ztC Edge gives us a reliable and robust server to connect to the FacilityConneX Cloud platform, where we are monitoring Doosan’s fuel cells around the world. It provides us with a versatile platform to run our GE Digital iFIX and Historian software, acting as HMI/Scada as well as data collection and IIoT server.”

    Hookings adds: “The hydrogen cells need to be maintained and replaced at intervals and the analytics allow personnel to be deployed when the requirement arises; ztC Edge is all about providing server redundancy in a remote industrial environment. 

    “In the past, an application such as this would require PLCs and some kind of IT device running the Scada software. We have been able to reduce a lot of the accessories, previously required, and replace this with an IT solution. This reduces the complexity of the application and significantly reduces cost.”

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