Inside Dell’s Ongoing Quest for Digitalization Acceleration

  • December 04, 2018
  • Feature
Inside Dell’s Ongoing Quest for Digitalization Acceleration
Inside Dell’s Ongoing Quest for Digitalization Acceleration

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

Last year, we explored Dell Technologies quest to accelerate IoT focus to the edge.  I recently returned to the folks at Dell to follow up on this mission. Speaking with Jason Shepherd, Dell’s IoT and Edge Computing CTO, he shared how they are helping customers accelerate digitalization through the application of IoT to improve business performance.  Through numerous discussions and presentations over the last few years, Dell Technologies has clearly aligned itself to provide industry with solutions that span from computing at the network edge to cloud services. Further, this commitment to build this vision comes straight from the top:

“IoT is fundamentally changing how we live, how organizations operate and how the world works. Dell Technologies is leading the way for our customers with a new distributed computing architecture that brings IoT and artificial intelligence together in one, interdependent ecosystem from the edge to the core to the cloud. The implications for our global society will be nothing short of profound.”  Michael Dell, Chairman & CEO

For Dell’s vision Jason Shepherd is the evangelist. As CTO, focusing on standards enablement, strategic ecosystem development and solution planning for the Dell Technologies IoT Solutions Division, Shepard has a record of accomplishment as an IoT thought leader.   His efforts include building up the Dell IoT partner ecosystem and establishing the vendor-neutral, open source EdgeX Foundry project hosted by The Linux Foundation  to facilitate greater interoperability in IoT edge computing. He also holds 14 granted and 11 pending U.S. patents

Jason Shepherd is passionate about democratizing IoT


The Advance of EdgeX Foundry

One of the first things Shepherd noted, was that EdgeX Foundry has really started to take off, as the company has seen a rapid increase in the number of developers applying the technology.  EdgeX Foundry has gone through a rapid refinement shown by the reduction of computer resource requirements from the initial 2.5 GB to 128 MB memory requirement. 

In addition, companies like IOTech are productizing real-time versions of EdgeX Foundry.  Shepard shared how the vendor neutral APIs are preserved so EdgeX Foundry plug-ins can be used for communications, security management tools, cloud plug-ins, and, with the addition of a real-time core industrial control applications, an embedded PLC.

EdgeX Foundry Architecture Provide Open Edge Computing Platform


EdgeX Development Kits

Shepard noted that EdgeX has matured a lot and, as a result, the organization has begun launching development kits. "With the emergence of these dev kits, developers will have the opportunity to prototype with their choice of ingredients while taking advantage of plug-in components from EdgeX's growing vendor-neutral ecosystem," Shepard explained, "This allows them to focus on innovation rather than reinvention, in addition to being able to add and exchange components at any time to optimize their solution throughout the development and deployment lifecycle." 

 There will two different kinds of dev kits – community and commercial. The EdgeX Community DevKits provide options for developers who want to get started quickly using pre-tested, production-ready development kits. These Community DevKits refer to configurations of the EdgeX software, built for use with particular combinations of third-party hardware devices. For example, the first kit is based on the Samsung Artik with Grove sensor. Further options will grow through community contributions over time.

Reviewing the EdgeX Community DevKits, I found the Samsung ARTIK 710 single board system to be a particularly interesting platform.  Designed for building and factory applications, the ARTIK 710 provides 8 cores to run local analytics to improve latency and responsiveness. Each Samsung ARTIK IoT module is a true System on Module (SoM), with CPUs, networking, wireless radios, and full system software stack, all built onto a single package. It also provides multiple connectivity solutions to communicate with a range of things, and has a multimedia processor to handle video and audio processing.   Key features include:

  • 8-core, 64-bit ARM® Cortex A-53 processor with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®, ZigBee, Thread
  • ARM MALI GPU for multimedia, graphics applications
  • 1GB RAM, 4GB flash (eMMC)
  • Enterprise-class security with hardware secure element and Secure OS (710s)
  • Ubuntu Linux package with multimedia, connectivity, graphics, power management and security libraries


The Democratization Dilemma

Shepard’s vision does come with a caveat. “The kicker, the holy Grail of digital is about the maker movement,” he emphasized, “This is the innovator’s dilemma.”  He explained that technology needs to be democratized in order to enable subject matter experts to apply their knowledge to create solutions that deliver great outcomes with easy-to-use hardware and software applications.

Shepard’s vision reminded me of the shift from mainframe and minicomputers to PCs.  Many of these computers required custom application development services from hardware vendors and system houses, but with the rise of PC hardware, this shifted dramatically. Based on open bus architecture, third parties started to develop for PCs, creating software that dramatically reduce costs and enabled subject matter experts to directly create solutions without programming. Examples of this included spreadsheets, Visual Basic, database programs, and report writers (i.e. PFS File and PFS Report (1984) by Software Publishing Corporation).

Jason Shepherd's Three IoT & Edge Rules

In conclusion, Shepherd discussed his three rules for IoT and Edge Computing based on experience in the industry:

  1. It’s important to decouple infrastructure from applications. EdgeX, combined with other open frameworks and platform-independent commercial infrastructure value-add is key here.
  2. Decouple the edge from the cloud via open, cloud-native principles, as close as possible to the point of data creation in the physical world. Separate transport from protocols, application frameworks, and operating systems. This enables you to control your data destiny through any permutation of on-premises or cloud data integration, compared to pumping your data into a cloud and then having no choice but to pay to access and use it throughout your applications.
  3. It’s important to decouple industry-specific domain knowledge from underlying technology. Many IoT platform providers tout the ability to do predictive maintenance, but their developers don’t have the necessary years of hands-on experience and know-how to define data failure patterns of any particular type of machine.


Bill's Thoughts & Observations

I would add or amplify on Shepard’s rules that -for IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0 to be successful – developers must apply the same structured design and object-oriented principles that have been key to success of the Internet.

EdgeX provides an edge computing architecture that has traditionally been in industrial automation middleware which currently hosts software applications including Historians, HMI, MES, and others.  This provides a platform operating closer to sensors, actuators, and real-time controls in order to create richer and more responsive industrial automation systems.

EdgeX Foundry illustrates a desire for open architecture multivendor interoperability in the open source technology community.

For the past couple of years, regular readers will know that I have been predicting the fall of traditional industrial automation vendors if they do not get involved in collaborations to create open architectures. This is because it is likely that the IT and IoT industries will eventually displace them.  We’ve seen this journey before. It took until around 1984 for the value of desktop, personal computers sold in the United States to overtake sales of the large mainframe machines. How much longer will it take this advancing technology?


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