The need to adapt to emerging business continuity challenges continues to drive greater demand for edge computing. This is opening new opportunities for partners to assist their customers in building resiliency and strategically restructuring their businesses, according to global leader in IT infrastructure, power and cooling, APC by Schneider Electric.
“We are living in unusually challenging times,” Schneider Electric Pacific Vice President, Secure Power, Joe Craparotta, said in his welcome address at the company’s Virtual Innovation Day event. “While we need to continue to adjust to the new reality, I want to encourage everybody to remember that we are also empowered to create what the new normal will be.”
Edge computing will be a key component to organisations forging their vision for the “new normal”. It is the architecture that brings elements of compute, storage and manageability together for critical applications as close as required to the point of processing so that it can support the ever-changing digital landscape.
The new generation of applications – such as AI and IoT – are demanding reduced network latency and the ability to rapidly process large volumes of data. Meanwhile, emerging 5G technology will also depend on very low latency underlying fixed line infrastructure to match its wireless speed.
To support application capability growth and maintain an increasingly critical edge over competitors, businesses must build resiliency through a collaborative hybrid IT ecosystem, with a strategically calculated balance of cloud and edge.
We can see that edge computing enables three key areas:
The industry agrees
The APC 2020 TRA survey revealed the following key insights:
Edge computing enables innovation
IoT (12 per cent for enterprise IoT, 11 per cent for industrial IoT), automation (11 per cent), and AI (8 per cent) are the three most common technologies being deployed on edge computing applications.
Edge computing reduces enterprise costs
Reduced IT costs (36 per cent) and reduced operational costs (28 per cent) were the top two benefits cited as the most substantial that enterprises have derived from edge computing.
The channel has a critical role to play
“We’re too busy moving apps and data to the cloud” (25 per cent) and “We don’t have the skills” (18 per cent) are the two most commonly cited “rank-1” barriers to edge computing projects.
Enterprises are willing to invest
31 per cent of enterprises have built new data centres for their edge computing applications.
Edge computing affords organisations new opportunities for innovation, while also helping them to get costs under control. This is a transformation exercise that is strategically focused on resilience and providing a foundation for the future for many organisations. While the market has been disrupted and budgets constrained, organisations are looking to edge computing as a way of future-readying their environment for the post-pandemic bounce.
A recent KPMG report, COVID-19: Accelerating digital transformation in uncertain times, states, “IT leaders should continue transforming their operating models and investing in key enablers, like integrated cloud platforms, agile ways of working, intelligent automation, AI, blockchain, and advanced data and analytics.
“History has shown that companies that take a strategic future-focused investment approach during times of unrest were better placed when the global economy rebounded.”
The risk that comes from edge computing is outages. As the environment becomes more dispersed and the computing is done at the edge, an outage at any point within the diverse environment will cause major disruption to business.
From a business continuity perspective, Australian organisations face a massive challenge with outages as they decentralise operations. The savings are meaningful, but costs can rapidly outweigh the benefits if not carefully planned for. Each location where work is being done has the potential to experience disruption through an outage, making it all the more critical for the overall environment that edge computing solutions be built with resilience in mind, and to minimise the impact of outages. Enterprises need robust remote monitoring tools to secure the success of those solutions. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT solution is a holistic solution for monitoring across on-premise, in the cloud and at the edge. It’s a vendor-neutral solution that provides 24/7 monitoring and alerts for critical equipment – find out more (and take advantage of a free trial) here.
What’s driving the demand?
Edge solutions sit on the “opportunistic” curve, whereby the growth of the technology is in-line with the use cases demonstrating its value. What we are seeing is that through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, organisations that have been successful in rapidly shifting to edge solutions as part of their resilience strategy have become those use cases, and the momentum behind edge computing is now growing rapidly.
An example of these drivers in action is the need for Australia’s healthcare industry to rapidly adapt to remote working and telehealth. Almost all (87 per cent) of healthcare institutions recognise that digitisation is the way forward, and to drive this sector-wide transformation, many healthcare providers have turned to edge computing as a solutions driver.
“Healthcare’s reinvention is being driven by two major factors; the search for economic sustainability and digital disruption,” Schneider Electric Edge Solutions Evangelist Rajesh Thangaraj said.
Through IoT, AI, 5G and the edge computing processes that underpin it all, Australian healthcare is able to rapidly improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, the effectiveness of clinical trials, the use of robotic surgery, and a nationwide, secure, electronic health record system.
Data-driven decision making with AI predictive logic is becoming a priority for most businesses, as are smart spaces in buildings that recognise who is in them and configure themselves accordingly for better occupancy efficiency and staff satisfaction. Immersive augmented/virtual/mixed reality experiences are also in the mix with demanding infrastructure requirements.
A common theme between these trends is large amounts of data being generated locally and a need for very fast system performance. For edge computing, especially where arrays of sensors are supporting VR/AR/MR, applications benefit from network transmission delay (latency) of less than 1ms. That’s a practical impossibility with cloud-only architecture which necessarily has to traverse longer WAN links, out to the internet and back.
These technical requirements underpin very human needs which shape customer purchasing habits, according to Jason Molloy, Schneider Electric Business Development Manager NZ & South Pacific.
"Every one of us is now looking for personalised experiences in every context. Whether in education or retail, we have gone from segmenting markets into male/female, age groups, backgrounds, to individually targeted profiles and experiences on a per-person basis.,” Molloy said.
This level of extreme targeting makes experiences – whether in retail or education – much more relevant and once we get a taste of that, we want it everywhere.
"If we can't get it from one supplier, we move on to another who can," Molloy said.
These demands can be catered for through edge computing deployments that provide very fast compute resources with low network latency, but with the repeat deployability and manageability of data centre environments.
The challenge for clients
Edge computing offers distinct benefits for organisations grappling with a “new normal” of work and changing requirements around resilience. The more geographically disperse and reliant on end point devices an organisation is to enable its staff to undertake work, the greater value edge computing solutions can return to the organisation.
This needs to be carefully managed, however. With centralised data centres, SLAs and redundancy make 99.995 per cent availability standard, and with that the expectation that there will be just 26 minutes of downtime per year. Such levels of availability in edge computing deployments are unlikely without careful planning. However, without that level of availability the edge computing deployment will become too costly as outages impact on operations.
Edge computing deployments need to be remotely manageable, as the “new normal” means that the IT team will not have physical access to the devices handling much of the compute. They also need to be both logically and physically secure (a challenge to overcome given the application of consumer-grade technology and security systems in residential households), rapidly and repeatedly deployable to those remote locations, and most of all, reliable – including having stable power sources that won’t go down even when the remote location experiences a general power outage.
When clients choose a power and automation vendor to support an edge computing deployment, as an APC partner you can advise them of your and APC’s deep understanding of IT requirements, and that they’re not just buying from another UPS vendor. APC's training and enablement programs are available to all channel partners, to allow upskilling to maximise the sales opportunity, increase their revenue stream but also expand their foot print within their existing customer base with new solutions.
APC provides a powerful set of capabilities to CIOs and their IT organisation with a single pane of glass view of all systems and unparalleled integration with automation tools.
Shaping the conversation with clients
The key to selling edge computing is to ensure you look at the client’s bigger picture. In the current environment that probably means a rapid effort to transform to an entirely different mode of operation.
“Most businesses including ourselves have prioritised our people’s safety and quickly executed remote work initiatives during these past months and in response to this global emergency,” Schneider Electric General Manager, Channel, Alliances and Operations, Joseph Vijay, said. “Most BCP and DR plans will have factored in some levels of contingency to enable remote working but typically not contemplated 100 per cent of their staff working remotely so there is bound to be unplanned load that has been placed on business systems and networks. If left unaddressed this situation can place the organisation at risk of delivering a poor experience for staff and customers.”
These challenges cannot be addressed via product-driven solutions. Understanding the wider picture, strategic opportunity, and risks involved, in such rapid transformation requires asking a broad range of questions regarding objectives and solutions, such as:
- Where are you generating data?
- What are you using it for?
- What role does technology play in your business continuity strategy?
- How are you being accountable for that data complying with regulations – particularly where remote access is concerned?
- How are you securing that data?
- How are you managing data governance?
- How are you visualising the data and making decisions on it?
- What role is IoT, automation and AI playing in your organisation, and what role would you like to see it play?
- Is your intention to maintain remote and flexible work into the future?
Not all partners are having those conversations today, and in many cases organisations are still scrambling to simply find solutions to keep the proverbial lights on for their customers, missing out on the opportunity for increased revenue and reach, and decreased effort in managing their customers in the process. “In speaking with our customers, we learned that while most have taken steps to augment centralised technology and provision remote working access, they had not proactively thought about power availability at these sites,” Vijay said.
Where technology purchases are being made to address the immediate needs, it’s a good idea for partners to use those as an opportunity to introduce a broader and more strategic conversation around long-term goals.
Schneider Electric SVP, EcoStruxure Solutions and Chief Marketing Officer, Secure Power Division, Kevin Brown, suggests there is the opportunity for organisations to engage with the technology infrastructure in a way that is much more cognisant of newer ways that computing is done.
“There are three types of data centres,” Brown said. “One is the centralised cloud data centre. Then there’s the regional edge data centre, which is the IT equipment that you might have in your old enterprise data centre. But what’s most interesting is the local edge. You can almost think about it as being similar to yesterday’s server rooms and wiring closets. There is the need for those to start being treated much more like a data centre, and we need to be asking how we manage and support them, because they are the key to making this environment more available and resilient.”
Here’s an example of how a partner might engage with its customer and provide a value-added service: An organisation might want to buy some UPS devices for deployment into the homes of various key staff – a simple day-to-day request. As a simple product transaction, it can still be a substantial invoice by the time the UPS, management cards and extended warranty are taken into account, however, it also provides an open opportunity to explore a customer's strategy across the whole of the organisation and how the organisation is managing availability, networks, and edge computing.
For example, by assisting the customer with a broader survey of its rapidly-evolving environment, the inadequate centralised management and asset reporting for this “new normal” might come up as a red flag risk, or the customer may start to see the value in remote monitoring and management. Recommending EcoStruxure IT Expert could give the client a single pane of glass view with proactive monitoring, which solves a very real challenge for the customer, and more than doubles the revenue of the engagement via software licenses. What’s more, it is an on-going service, building customer retention and stickiness.
The customer organisation may then find that once it has proactive monitoring, the number of alerts about issues they were unaware of is something they would prefer somebody else to handle. For instance, add EcoStruxure Asset Advisor and Schneider will do the remote monitoring for the customer and contact the organisation by phone or app-based chat to recommend actions and then deliver them. That is another stream of annuity revenue and the opportunity to build a reputation for providing real value-add back to the customer.
In this example, what started as a single sales opportunity can grow to a full service package which may be up to seven times higher than the original quote, and a much better outcome for the customer, with a clear view of assets, lower risk position and proactive monitoring and action.
“Partners have an immense role to play in helping their customers chart a way forward out of this pandemic and back into business transformation,” Vijay said. “Customers trust partners to help them with their area of specialisation to find tangible solutions to short-to-medium term problems; recommend the best options to help them adapt and execute on strategy as we come out of this pandemic; leverage key learnings to take advantage of emerging technologies and methodologies to better prepare them for new challenges.
“APC has an easy-to-use, extensive training program for partners to prepare them for having the edge computing discovery and sales conversation with clients. We appreciate that our partners bear a huge responsibility for their customers and we are doing even more to ensure that we support them with knowledge transfer and training from our experts, access to our full suite of products and solutions, and collaboration with our key Alliance partners to simplify solution design, integration and operation,” Vijay added.
Maintaining quality utilities across a State
For organisations that operate across a disperse geographical environment, edge computing is a natural solution, as it allows for each satellite site to operate at maximum efficiency and resiliency in ensuring continuity of service from the site itself.
Utilities are an excellent example of this in action. Each town and resident needs to be serviced with a broad range of utilities, and Australia has a geographically disperse population. State utilities providers need to maintain a large number of facilities and locations, and each of these need to be in continual operation.
Edge computing has allowed each facility a greater degree of autonomy in procurement, deployment, maintenance and operation, however, uptime is also a critical concern for these deployments, and it’s important that the utilities provider is able to adequately monitor each site while maintaining service levels in the event that an issue arises.
Success story: SA Water
SA Water were exploring an enhanced implementation strategy for its critical water infrastructure across South Australia, including water treatment plants (WTP) and key Edge sites. The solution needed to include runtime requirements of batteries for four hours and eight hours, asset monitoring software, and a modernisation of the IT environment at sites – particularly the remote ones. PJ Corporate Electrical was able to deliver solutions that have enabled positive outcomes for the organisation.
Reaching regional Australia
With the shift to remote work and study, regional Australia has been hit hard by a national slowdown in internet speeds and connectivity. NBN Co has reported an increase in data demand during daytime hours of 70-80 per cent, for example, with regional Australia facing compounded challenges from the infrastructure and inflated costs in accessing data centre services.
Building up Australia’s regional economies has been highlighted as a key goal by governments at all levels, and was a driving factor in the construction of the National Broadband Network (NBN). To do so, however, towns need an equivalent level of Internet infrastructure as that in the cities.
Some towns are finding the solution is edge computing, with regional co-location services providing direct, seamless access to the cloud at prices comparable to metropolitan data centre services. The challenge in building these facilities and then networking them together has been in securing property that is zoned and construction-ready, with access to power and diverse fibre paths.
Success story: Leading Edge data centres
By partnering with Schneider Electric for its data centre equipment expertise, Leading Edge Data Centres will be opening up multiple sites across regional NSW as part of their Phase 1 rollout, starting with Newcastle, Tamworth and Dubbo. These regional data centres will boost the opportunities for local businesses to engage in innovation via edge computing.
Leveraging the edge to boost healthcare
One of the most dramatic shifts across various sectors, as a result of COVID-19, has been in the way healthcare is managed and the experience provided to patients. For aged care providers – with older demographics being most at risk from COVID-19 – it has been even more important to transform the entire environment to work better.
Aged care has a number of technological requirements for providing a leading standard of service. They include: network infrastructure, Wi-Fi infrastructure, emergency nurse call systems, clinical nursing stations, and admin environments.
The risks – if the technology environment is not resilient – are severe, with the health of the patients and residents of the facilities a concern. With many aged care facilities also struggling under budgetary limitations, however, there is also the opportunity to leverage technology to deliver not just disaster mitigation, but a greater customer experience.
Success story: Oceania Healthcare
By rolling out a Schneider Electric solution, Oceania Healthcare was able to deliver remote monitoring services to maintain the technology environment across all its retirement villages. Not only has this delivered better uptime and highly reliable UPS devices, but it has helped with the comfort and care of residents by managing heating and improving the efficiency and reliability of the nurse call system.
APC by Schneider Electric: Power borne out of IT
Since its establishment in 1981 by three engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, APC has been IT-first. This means it understands the IT world, who the vendors are, how they interface, and what goes into infrastructure design decisions and how edge computing has an advantage.
APC is part of shaping the future of IT strategy, with a full set of infrastructure, monitoring and management tools that integrate tightly with IT.
APC software is not only able to predict the life cycle of APC’s own devices, but also of other vendors’ IT infrastructure, including servers, storage and networking appliances. This is because it gathers real-life data from clients worldwide, allowing this data to be analysed to accurately predict failure of different specific models of equipment in your environment.
As such, APC clients can be confident using their appliances for longer and replacing them just before they fail, rather than performing calendarised, non-targeted preventative maintenance.
All these IT capabilities mean partnering with APC can help customers make richer business and technology decisions.
Finally, APC by Schneider Electric’s channel partners are its super power – in Australia, APC by Schneider Electric has more than 4000 IT resellers, more than 1000 system integrators, and 34,000 electricians. This scale empowers clients to get support on demand from experts accredited in specific niches without delay.
Looking for more information on APC by Schneider Electric’s leading channel program, or keen to sign up and start delivering tangible benefits at the edge to your customers?
APC also offers one of the most robust Partner Loyalty Programs.