Moving Past Edge Project Barriers

As organizations continue to look to move their data and operations to the edge, three key factors are holding back their progress, according to Dell Technologies’ Director of Edge Technical Marketing Laura Finkelstein: connectivity, physical security, and a fragmented landscape.

Finkelstein, speaking at the Dell Technologies World 2022 event earlier this month, said that through numerous interviews and conversations, her team came up with this trio of key barriers to delivering edge use cases. And it has come up with a three-pronged approach to helping projects move more surely past those barriers, she said.

“One of the really big ones … is connectivity,” said Finkelstein, who also holds the title of Director of Edge Engineering Technologist. “You cannot depend on continuous connectivity, and so, therefore, what you deploy needs to be sufficient to continue to run even with loss of connectivity to the data center, to other sites, or to the cloud.”

Finkelstein said that even when organizations are able to set up those types of redundancies to account for a potential loss of connectivity, there tends to be a limited bandwidth to do so. This leads to inefficient transfer of the large amounts of data and information flowing back and forth.

She also said that rather than having to focus on network security when managing data centers, physical security becomes an integral part of defending edge computing operations and use cases.

“In the edge, the physical security becomes a really big problem, where many people have access to the equipment and can manipulate, steal, or corrupt the data,” Finkelstein said. “What makes this even more complicated is that at these locations, there is usually minimal, if any, IT support.”

“The people there are not trained on that equipment; they’re trained on the business processes at that factory, selling in the store, being at the hospital,” she added. “That’s what their focus is, not on managing the equipment needed for this digital transformation.”

In addition to these environmental elements, Finkelstein said latency requirements have typically driven organizations to invest in edge use cases. However, she said another key issue holding the implementation of edge use cases back is an insistence by some to implement use cases one at a time.

“What that leads to is a very fragmented technology landscape, where you have a single use case with one technology and another use case with other technologies – which is difficult to manage from a management perspective, from a vendor perspective, and from a scalability perspective,” she said.

A framework for addressing these issues has three areas of focus, Finkelstein said: reducing IT at the edge, due to limited IT capabilities; ensuring use cases become successful; and planning to make desired use cases successful.

“When looking at reducing the complexities of the on-premises edge equipment, you want to develop the concept of zero IT,” she said. “So for the equipment that is at the edge, you want it to be managed, ideally from somewhere remote, that has that technical capability and IT capability.”

She said that kind of set up makes sure that the people on-site do not have to interact with the equipment and instead make a call to a help desk-type office wherever the equipment is housed and managed. As far as managing the physical and network security on the edge, she advocated for a zero trust architecture mentality.

Finkelstein also said it’s important that edge technologies installed on-premises are resilient to various temperatures, as well as potentially being physically bumped.

As far as building for growth and expansion, she said it’s important to reduce data silos and think critically about application and process migrations.

“Really thinking through the migration of applications to these types of environments, and which applications can be migrated, is an essential piece of the planning,” she said. “It’s very important to work with what already exists.”

“No one wants to rip out the current operation,” Finkelstein said. “And in fact, the users would have a lot of training to be done if they needed to interact with new edge technology. So, figuring out how to translate from these old technologies to the technology or deploying to have the most comprehensive continuous operations and minimize change management for the users is really essential.”