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Cloud-based software and systems design drives sustainability at the edge

Marc Garner, vice president, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK and Ireland, explains how the company is utilising the edge, distributed IT and 5G to reduce its carbon emissions. 

As the insatiable demand for connectivity, data and digital services continues to grow, edge computing solutions are being deployed in increasing numbers across commercial, residential and industrial environments.

However, for operators within these sectors including retail, automotive and manufacturing, guaranteeing reliability and optimum performance levels can present a number of significant challenges, including manageability, application availability and energy efficiency.

As a company focused on the digital transformation of energy management in automation, Schneider Electric is committed to improving energy consumption and reducing CO2 emissions across all areas of its business. We are committed to reaching carbon neutrality across all of our company sites by 2025; to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2030; and most importantly, to have net-zero emissions throughout our entire supply chain, including our partners and suppliers, by 2050.

To meet targets such as these, a collaborative approach to tackling energy management is essential and technology plays a critical role. With the rise of edge computing, distributed IT and applications such as 5G, where telco energy consumption is set to dwarf that of traditional data centre usage, energy efficiency becomes even more important in the goal to reduce emissions.

Managing a changing edge landscape

As greater volumes of compute moves to the edge of the network, our sector faces a significant challenge in managing greater volumes of micro data centres, which are consuming more energy in less efficient ways. As an industry focused on digitization, we must ensure that IT at the edge is deployed in such a way that it remains as efficient as the largest Hyperscale and colocation facilities.

Key considerations at the edge include the way in which we design, integrate and deploy edge facilities. However, another challenge yet to be overcome is management, which requires a combination of expert service personnel, greater levels of visibility and real-time actionable insights. This is only possible via use of cloud-based management software platforms, those that utilize data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to drive operational and energy efficiency.

Fortunately, technology is fast evolving to meet the challenge of monitoring multiple distributed systems via next-generation Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software, which allows 24/7 remote monitoring of edge sites, whilst enabling channel partners or Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) to carry out regular, proactive maintenance and respond quickly to outages or emergencies.

The evolution of DCIM

Legacy DCIM has been utilised in larger data centres for many years. Traditional software packages were deployed and hosted on-site where local staff could manage critical assets, including power, cooling and environmental systems to control and change the infrastructure in-person.

At the edge, however, a very different approach is needed. One that depends on cloud-based DCIM software to monitor the infrastructure remotely and relay the findings to mobile devices, which are often in the hands of external service partners, remote IT staff and MSP’s. Commercial edge computing sites are often of such a size and dispersed across numerous geographical locations, which makes permanent IT staff on-site either too expensive or impossible. Increasingly, many are edge computing sites “lights-out” systems, which have no personnel whatsoever.

From a technical perspective, IoT sensors allow data, detailing the status of critical assets, to be aggregated, analysed and transmitted to a central monitoring point. These functions include status changes, trends and alarm conditions; remote configuration of firmware updates; asset and inventory tracking; data analytics and third-party integration to allow communication with tools from other vendors, or service providers.

All of these factors play an essential role in managing a growing number of disparate edge computing solutions and form a group of key attributes that help to define a next generation management software.

The five key attributes of next-gen DCIM

Next-generation DCIM software platforms, especially those used for monitoring edge computing sites, contain five key attributes; Firstly, they are built on cloud technology, for ease of deployment, upgradeability and scalability.

Secondly, they utilise the latest data analytics techniques, including AI and Machine Learning (ML), to aggregate data and deliver detailed insights into the energy usage, status and operation of the system. This benefits end-users and service partners by leveraging detailed software algorithms, which make accurate predictions detailing the lifecycle of critical IT assets, including Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), cooling, IT and servers, so that timely UPS maintenance and equipment replacement schedules can be utilised to minimise the risk of failure.

Thirdly, they maximise the flexibility of mobile and web technologies, enabling them to integrate with third-party platforms. This allows quick and simple interaction with external service providers and their own monitoring systems, so that coverage can be extended across a wider geographical area with efficient use of resources.

The fourth key feature drives simplicity of operation and intuitive user experience. When managing a growing number of edge computing environments across a wider geographical area, it is essential that software deployments are quick and provide simplified installation or instructions for the user.

Device alarm thresholds also come with clear and useful default settings, and reports or status changes grouped together based on common causes to eliminate multiple spurious notifications being activated unnecessarily. Additionally, performance benchmarks provide some context on how a specific system or installation is performing relative to its peers on the network, flagging to the user if a system is in danger of outage or downtime.

Finally, next-gen DCIM systems have the ability to act as a compliance tool to identify and eliminate potential cyber security risks. This is achieved by incorporating threat-assessments, which automate the detection, or reporting, of a DCIM gateway and any associated device vulnerabilities. Users can be notified if device configurations or outdated firmware put the system at risk of attack, which helps to ensure that best practices regarding security are followed by both vendor and customer alike.

Driving efficiency at the edge

For any data centre or edge computing environment, monitoring and management remains essential. For users at the edge, however, the ability to gain insight into a distributed IT systems in real-time presents many tangible benefits; the most important of which are the ability to minimise application downtime, to manage energy consumption and to rectify system faults quickly and efficiently.

On the subject of efficiency, software is of course crucial, but in order to reduce energy consumption and emissions at the edge, end-users also have to think about the design, the integration and the types of technology they wish to deploy. For some, this may include use of new technologies like Liquid Cooling; pre-integrated Hyper-Converged infrastructure (HCI) systems; or High Performance Computing (HPC) applications, but the most important aspect of any edge computing application is that it is designed for maximum efficiency from the outset.

For companies continuing to drive digital transformation with lower emissions, those wanting to scale fast and capitalise on new opportunities, pre-integrated edge computing systems and next-generation DCIM provide the foundational infrastructure for operational efficiency, lower energy consumption and application uptime. All of which are essential for businesses now and in the years to come.

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