Tech Insights

A brief history of innovation on the industrial edge


A brief history of innovation on the industrial edge

As leader of an HPE team responsible for developing new technologies for industry, I get to work on a lot of exciting innovations in areas ranging from AI to smart cities. However, the innovation that my team takes the most pride in comes from an unlikely marriage of technologies, and indeed, is something that few in industry ever anticipated.

Two years ago, customers began to take delivery of an unusual new HPE product that was developed by our team. Like the pioneering technologies that came before it, the new HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems product line was the first of its kind. It was different than the standard IT hardware, which is designed for clean, temperature-controlled corporate data centers. HPE Edgeline was built to operate in unforgiving industrial spaces, ways apart from the cozy data center, at the edge of the network where IT infrastructure was seldom deployed. This is the domain of operations technology (OT) – machine control systems, data acquisition systems, and industrial networking, where the operations data is generated.

HPE Edgeline brought IT and OT capabilities into the same ruggedized box, along with datacenter-grade compute, storage, and connectivity, using industry-standard architectures and interfaces. Those early customers, many of them in the telecommunications, manufacturing, and energy fields, found that this new edge system could extend datacenter capabilities to factory floors, transmission towers, and remote facilities, while enabling new capabilities that they had never even imagined. HPE Edgeline quickly proved its mettle on the edge. Besides becoming the flagship system representing an entirely new product category, it also proved to be a platform for innovation. 


When you're outside the data center, that's the edge. The edge is the plant floor, a wind farm, under the ocean, on the streets of a city, on an oil rig, in a hospital, or out on a tractor in the middle of a wheat field. These are all edges. And they are going to grow.


The edge and convergence of IT and Operations Technology

When you're outside the data center, that's the edge. The edge is the plant floor, a wind farm, under the ocean, on the streets of a city, on an oil rig, in a hospital, or out on a tractor in the middle of a wheat field. These are all edges. And they are going to grow.

That’s not to say the edge is new. Industry is no stranger to silicon, with the first CNC machines introduced in the 1960s. Microprocessors eventually spread to vehicles, instruments, and embedded systems in countless industrial settings. However, such equipment has almost always fallen under the OT umbrella, and were deployed and managed separately from the IT data center that ran office applications and back-end ERP systems. In that sense, the edge was distinct from central IT.

But the walls are coming down. In recent years, the rise of the industrial IoT has brought about a sea of change in the way companies operate on the edge. The introduction of IoT in these spaces will have a profound effect not only on how companies produce things, but also what they produce.

The sheer volume of data being generated by plant machinery, robots, connected vehicles, and IoT sensors, not to mention the sophisticated applications required to process the data, makes it difficult to send it all back to central IT or upload it to a public cloud. 

It’s not just a question of bandwidth availability and costs. Talk to any plant manager or operator, and they will tell you that their greatest fear is latency or an unplanned outage taking systems offline. And, in certain fields, security, compliance, and other concerns prevent data from being processed remotely.

Convergence can be thought of as the combination or integration of several disparate components. A classic example is the smart phone: It converges many consumer devices, such as a music player, camera, phone, text, GPS, a flashlight, a wallet, and a video player, all in one device. The great value of this converged consumer device is irrefutable – it means there is less stuff to buy, set up, and carry around, it uses less energy, and it costs less. The smart phone is also a platform that promotes the invention of new integrated apps (think of all of the varieties of social media, games, productivity apps, etc.).

The HPE Edgeline follows a similar model for convergence, but for industry verticals including manufacturing, transportation, and energy. Located next to machinery out on the edge, the HPE Edgeline does more than provide local compute, connectivity, and control. The power of convergence brings additional benefits by enabling two technology domains – IT and OT – to operate synergistically.

This means that control systems now are intimate with computing, data capture systems are now intimate with wireless, and industrial networks now can reside with Ethernet, all in the same box. Now, our customers and the marketplace are beginning to see a new platform for developing industrial applications that have never been done before.

HPE IoT Innovation Labs: a platform for customers to develop their solutions

As a first-mover and the leader in Edge Computing, HPE is committed to helping customers innovate their operations and businesses. This means helping customers with planning and integration, providing the tools and expertise for developing prototypes and proof-of-concepts that will drive their IoT solutions in the near future.

I am proud to announce the inauguration of our 3rd HPE IoT Innovation Lab, located in Geneva, Switzerland. Here is a short video that provides the details of this major happening in making Edge Computing and IoT solutions a reality for more customers. I hope you can join us for a visit and explore how HPE can help you advance your IoT and Edge Computing initiatives.

Interested in learning more about edge computing?

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Dr. Tom Bradicich
Hewlett Packard Enteprise

About the Author


Dr. Tom Bradicich serves as a Hewlett Packard Fellow, Distinguished Technologist, and Global Head of Edge and IoT Labs & CoE at HPE. His team develops and commercializes advanced as-a-Service (SaaS/ IaaS) software, focusing on cloud managed remote infrastructure, edge-as-a-service, and converged IT/Operational Technologies (OT). He founded and directs the HPE Channel-to-Edge Institute partner program, and leads company-wide strategies and venture/M&A assessments.

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