Edge Computing Middleware: How It Can Tame IoT Complexity
Edge computing middleware in an industrial or enterprise software architecture is akin to plumbing on steroids. This software layer must efficiently connect different applications, data sources, devices (such as sensors and endpoints), services and business entities.
Today, IoT and industrial IoT within an organization can pose enormous complexity because of the sheer scale of edge projects. The ability to run cloud and AI applications at the network edge only increases the level of intricacy.
Infrastructure management alone “can quickly become a problem of nightmarish proportions at the edge,” said IDC Analyst Ashish Nadkami.
The advent of cloud computing helped IoT explode. As a result, edge computing can reduce the cost of cloud performance by putting compute power close to the network edge and devices, said Keith Steele, chairman of the EdgeX Foundry technical steering committee.
“There are many problems associated with edge with lots of software and massive numbers of protocols around this,” Steele added. “Sometimes there is hardware fragmentation and silicon fragmentation. What we have at the edge is a real problem because it’s very heterogeneous, with many components, operating systems and silicon. Edge middleware is how we bring it together.”
Open or Proprietary Software
Edge middleware products can be divided into open platforms and proprietary platforms. For example, EdgeX Foundry is an open source, vendor-neutral software framework for IoT edge computing. There are many other open approaches, including FogLAMP, Kura, OpenHAB, Thingsboard.io, OpenEdge, SiteWhere and Kaa — the latter two offering enterprise editions. For the most part, open source approaches work by offering IT shops common building blocks and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). They are often hardware and OS agnostic.
By comparison, proprietary approaches often come from large, well-known vendors such as Microsoft and AWS. Lesser-known vendors that often include open source software in their products include Zededa, Foghorn and Niolabs. Analysts are working to develop ways to rate vendors but there aren’t any clear leaders as yet.
For example, MachNation has rated 17 IoT Edge platform vendors for a second year.
Customization Is Expected
Whatever the choice in middleware, some level of customization is inevitable. “Nobody yet can provide a turn-key, off-the-shelf solution,” IDC’s Nadkami said. “The nature of the edge beast is that it’s custom or semi-custom.”
Of course, customization raises the age-old problem of whether an organization has the right IT staff trained to handle it or can find a skilled integrator who can support a large-scale project.
Given the hardware and software fragmentation in the market, part of EdgeX Foundry’s mission is to “exploit that heterogeneity and give people a choice,” said Steele, who is also the chief executive officer of IoTech, which provides distributed computing and middleware.
Edinburgh Due in June
The next and fourth release of EdgeX Foundry, dubbed Edinburgh, is expected sometime in June. There were 25,000 downloads in April of the available versions and nearly 70 companies have been contributing to its development. “Momentum is really starting to build,” Steele said. Leading members involved with EdgeX Foundry include Analog Devices, Dell EMC, Intel, VMWare and Samsung.