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Greetings From The Edge at Dell Technologies World

While Dell technologies World 2019 is fast becoming a distant memory, some of the messaging and announcements we saw play out over the few days in Las Vegas need to be followed in more depth. It’s the implementation and follow through after the buzz and hustle of big events has faded that is really important to technology decisions makers.

The strapline that we reported on numerous times at DTW2019 was “From Edge to Core to Cloud”. Given that spending on IoT and connected devices is skyrocketing across Asia today, we felt that digging a little deeper into what Dell thinks when they refer to edge was warranted.

The great thing about being at a convention like DTW is that you get to speak to the people driving these initiatives. When it came to edge and IoT, we were lucky enough to join a small group media session with Amit Midha, President, APJ Commercial EVP, Global Digital Cities, Dell Technologies and a one on one with Glen Burrows, Vice President and General Manager, OEM/IoT Solutions, APJ which allowed us to ask more questions about what Dell are thinking when they talk about edge.

Amit Midha, President, APJ Commercial EVP, Global Digital Cities, Dell Technologies

In Amit’s session, he dived into what he firmly told us are “Digital Cities”. According to Amit “smart cities” have not been successful, he prefers to talk about digital cities, and for Amit, these need to be powered by data. Cities are realising that citizens need to work smart and develop relevant core skills around areas like autonomous cars, building safety for people into the core of our cities and delivering government as an app wherever possible. Core to this is the need to be able to process huge amounts of data.  As we listened to Amit’s vision, it helped crystallise Dell’s focus on the edge. It not just about putting devices at the edge, it is about putting compute power at the edge that can deliver analytics and machine learning in real time in order to power analysis of data created in digital cities.

When we spoke with Glen, we saw he comes at things from a different perspective, but interestingly comes to similar conclusions to those we heard from Amit. Glen has been responsible for building Dell’s embedded computing division in Asia. This are the customers that embed Dell hardware into their own turnkey solutions, where the customer may not even know Dell is embedded in the solution. Manufacturers of plant operations systems, warehouse systems and utility management systems can all be long term customers for Glen’s division. It may sound a bit “old school” but three years ago, Dell created the IoT edge computing division enabling Dell to start to capitalise on the demand they were seeing for embedding computing at the edge.

We pressed Glen on whether this was more about “jumping on the buzzword bandwagon” and he explained it is much more than that.  He told us that the demand for embedding IoT solutions is real, since launching a specialist IoT program now called IoT Ecosystems, they have recruited 110 partners including large ISVs and Global SI’s who have started building solutions that are having an impact on things like driver and operator safety, fleet management efficiency, smart utility metering and building management optimisation.  Drawing comparisons with what we heard from Amit, we see the problems at the edge, being solved by gathering and analysing that data at the edge.

Given that many of Glen’s customers have been using data from sensors for decades, we wondered if things are really that different at the edge today. Glen rolled the conversation back and told us the importance of understanding that “the edge” is not a technology; it’s a place, and it means different things to different people. Breaking it down further, he spoke about the near and far edge. Perhaps near edge could be sensors in a car in a city, and far edge might be a modular datacentre in a distant inaccessible location. His point being the tech in each case is completely different, but it's about being able to put the right technology where it needs to be.

Glen Burrows, Vice President and General Manager, OEM/IoT Solutions, APJ

Expanding on the point, Glen explained that the technology we can place at the edge is completely different today from the “dumb” sensors of 10 years ago. He identified four key technologies that are making the possibilities at the edge far more advanced today than ever before. First, the price of mem sensor technology has drastically reduced, enabling the number of sensors in use to grow rapidly. Compute power has increased, memory price has reduced, and we now have ubiquitous low-cost networking available (with 5G around the corner). These four components have transformed what we can place and process at the edge. More important with low-cost sensors communicating wirelessly with edge computing systems which in turn can communicate back to the core in real time, it enables a level of insight from distributed systems that are so powerful it enables workflows to be re-invented.

Glen’s division is applying this kind of technology for a specific set of customers, but the technology he describes serves a similar purpose across a variety of use cases.

Coming back to Amit, he explained that Dell’s leadership had identified 50 cities across the world, where Dell is engaging to help make them digital at their core. He also referred to the data gathered from sensors across these cities. For Amit, he explained Dell is not in the sensor business, where they come in is once the data from sensors has been collected.

Amit was able to get a bit more granular identifying the specific technologies that are in the Dell technologies “kit bag” that enable them to build solutions at the edge that transform our cities and by default our lives. As you might expect, it’s not just about sticking a laptop or PC in a remote location, or a disk in a car to capture telemetry. Amit painted the picture to show just how much thought Dell is putting into the strategy.

It starts with VMware pulse, which is a secure platform for collecting and managing IoT data for analysis and automation. Pivotal has the application stack with powerful aspects such as Machine learning in Green Plumb, and powerful application modernisation. Finally, this is combined with Dell’s cutting-edge infrastructure. These three elements combined enable powerful solutions to collect and analyse data at the edge, share it with the core in real time and empower the future of digital cities.

Two meetings, two interviews, two very different parts of Dell’s business but with a common thread – the importance of the computing at the edge will transform business, cities and lives and Dell have internalised that from edge to edge within its own business.

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