EdgeX Foundry is the solution the IoT world desperately needs

The newest Linux Foundation project is aimed at creating a common framework for IoT companies to improve interoperability and healthy growth of IoT ecosystem

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IoT (internet of things) is playing a very critical role in the industrial and enterprise space. It’s being used by shipping companies track containers. It’s being used in massive warehouses for better usage of space. It’s being used in factories, construction sites and mines to improve safety of workers. There are so many use cases.

It's gradually maturing in the consumer space also, though it’s largely plagued by security concerns for various reasons, mainly by the lack of a business model.

One challenge that is common across the board -- from industrial IoT to enterprise and consumer IoT -- is the lack of any standard based platform or framework. IoT companies are doing their own things, duplicating efforts, writing their own code, their own protocols, creating fragmentations and interoperability challenges as they do all of the above.

It’s actually hindering the healthy growth and adoption of IoT.

The Linux Foundation wants to fix that. More than 50 companies have come together to form a new collaborative project under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation called, EdgeX Foundry.

Just like any other Linux Foundation collaborative project, the goal of the foundry is to simplify and standardize the industrial IoT edge computing by bringing stakeholders together and at the same time allowing each vendor to create their own differentiating products on top of the common base.

Philip DesAutels, Senior Director of IoT for the Linux Foundation, told me in an interview that the core software component of the EdgeX Foundry is Dell’s Project Fuse that the company open sourced and donated to the Linux Foundation.

EdgeX Foundry aims at bringing these benefits to the IoT space:

End customers can deploy IoT edge solutions quickly and easily with the flexibility to dynamically adapt to changing business needs;
Hardware Manufacturers can scale faster with an interoperable partner ecosystem and more robust security and system management;
Independent Software Vendors can benefit from interoperability with 3rd party applications and hardware without reinventing connectivity;
Sensor/Device Makers can write an application-level device driver with a selected protocol once using the SDK and get pull from all solution providers;
System Integrators can get to market faster with plug-and-play ingredients combined with their own proprietary inventions.

Since the focus of EdgeX Foundry is on industrial IoT: when asked how it may help the consumer IoT, he said that the line between consumer and industrial IoT is blurred.

“When we look into consumer space, we see standalone products with ecosystems forming around them,” said Desautels. “Comcast and Verizon sell a whole bunch of home automation products. These products range from security systems, smart door locks, smoke alarms -- products that solve real problems for people. The consumer space in that case looks an awful lot like a small industrial or a small enterprise problem.”

IoT is actually going beyond what we can comprehend. DesAutels gave an example of a theatrical IoT company that does rock concerts and broadway shows, and their platform has to be in near real time. Everything has to sync -- live action and music.

IoT devices are saving companies millions of dollars in lost production. “Weir Group, a 150 year old maker of industrial pumps with over 150,000 assets in the field has turned to Dell Technologies to digitally instrument equipment in the field and move from guessing to knowing when servicing these critical assets,” said Jason Shepherd, Director, IoT Solutions and Partnerships, Dell. “If a pump fails, downtime can quickly exceed millions of dollars of lost production, and an emergency service event comes at a very high cost with some service trips requiring a helicopter ride.”

DesAutels said that we will also see BYOT (bring your own things) in scenarios like energy management systems, where one can bring consumer grade devices and integrate with the building system for monitoring things like air quality or what not. There will be a lot of crossover between industrial and consumer IoT.

The best way to deal with all of those scenarios is by creating a common framework, which is EdgeX Foundry.

However, user facing devices is not the only equation of IoT, it’s actually only the tip of the iceberg, the real iceberg is the back end, the data center, the cloud that run services for these devices.

That’s why Platform as a Service projects like Cloud Foundry are also part of the EdgeX Foundry.

The user facing IoT devices sit at the edge of the network which makes things complicated. You could be running a massive analytics in the cloud, at the same time needing a smaller analytics right at the edge because you don’t want to send every bits to the cloud, you just want to send some higher level information to the cloud to process.

Shepherd gave a good example of such use-cases, "Weir connected the unconnected with the Edge Gateway and used edge analytics on the sensor data to predict when pump failures will occur. Analytics in the core and cloud enable their customers to look at operations trends across all their assets, while keeping data on premise if they desire. Finally, Weir is using all this new data to optimize product development decisions and compete more effectively."

“There's a real compliment between Cloud Foundry being a standardized infrastructure, its standardized model for cloud compute, and EdgeX foundry in its standardized model for Edge compute, and then you have that little gray area in the middle where things kind of move back and forth over that edge, the permeable barrier,” said DesAautels.

The goal of the EdgeX Foundry doesn’t stop at creating this framework, it goes beyond that. Two additional key areas that the foundry will focus on is certification and compliance. “Once you have the first release of EdgeX foundry, this core framework, how do you start certifying things as being compatible and compliant with it?

The Linux Foundation is home to many IoT/cloud related projects, including the Cloud Foundry. Being part of the same organizations not only allows these projects to collaborate with each other at a much deeper level, it allows allows these projects to take advantage of the growing expertise of the Linux foundation in other areas including compliance, certification and educational courses.

The project will be governed in the typical Linux Foundation manner: there will be a technical steering committee to drive the code and provide technical direction of the project and then there will be a governing board to drive business decisions, marketing and ensure alignment between the technical communities and members.

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