In conversation with… Greg Hookings, Stratus Technologies

May 7th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Greg Hookings

While he was on a whistle stop visit to South Africa to participate in X-Change 2018, I meet with Greg Hookings at the Stratus office in Lynnwood, Pretoria, on his way back to England. Greg is responsible for leading the company’s industrial internet of things (IIOT) and Industry 4.0 IT systems with one of his tasks being “thought leadership”.

He said that Stratus started in the business of ensuring uptime in the financial sector but with the evolution of IIoT and Industry 4.0, uptime has become equally important, particularly on the factory floor. Industry’s survival depends on moving a significant percentage of processing intelligence away from the data centre and the cloud, and closer to operations. Many industries are under increasing pressure to become more competitive and efficient in order to remain profitable and viable. As part of their digitisation strategies, companies are looking at edge computing in industrial plants.

Hookings said that while the USA and Germany have put their own stamp on it, kind of taking national ownership of it, it does not matter whether it is IoT, IIoT or Industry 4.0. It is about digitisation of industry.

“For me, the key thing is what you can do with the data. This is where the real magic happens. It is about the things you could not do before. In analytics for example, previously, industry looked into the past. Why did this button break? They asked historical questions. Now, we are looking at when this button will break and what we can do about it before it happens.”

Better intelligence and analytics at the edge would improve all aspects of operations, from efficiency to safety. This is not limited to large industry but will provide benefits from the smallest to the largest manufacturing operations. Complex and remote infrastructure places a burden on a business to ensure there are sufficient skills and human capital available at all times to ensure smooth and safe operations.

Hookings said this shift in focus to the edge is cross-industry and widespread, meaning that businesses are shifting focus to more investment in technology developed to improve operations and reduce latency, as they strive for real-time business intelligence at the edge. This was clearly shown in a recent ARC Advisory Group report for which 300 companies from across the world and various industries were surveyed. Respondents were quite clear that more complex computing is going to take place at the edge but also said that connectivity to the data centre and the cloud are essential elements in the IT mix. The report found that 93% of respondents agreed that a mix of computing at the edge and the cloud will form the basis of industrial automation.

Like in the financial sector, Hookings believes that there is a greater need to focus on uptime. “Take an example of a factory manufacturing a baby milk formula. They cannot afford to lose an internet connection if the date of the manufacture and batch formulation details are recorded and stored in the cloud. It needs to be at the edge. Should a problem with the product arise, the company cannot say it had a two minute break in its internet connection and doesn’t have the data. Today, this will not cut it!”

In the broader concept of the IoT, the edge is the place where computing happens. In the IoT space, the edge is all devices, machines, sensors and work points that are connected to the internet.

“There is growing IT support for edge solutions and cloud-based services that includes real-time data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies. These systems can generate new sources of data and increase efficiency when complemented by newer, open and secure industrial networking standards. These ‘edge systems’ can collect, analyse, store and forward data generated by devices being monitored at the points of production.”

In the traditional digital setup, data from sensors connected to various “things” was sent through the gateway to a data centre and the cloud, where computing would take place. This brought with it a built-in latency that held back productivity and efficiency.

Remote management is important because of limited resources and skills sets. It is critical to remove human error from the edge. “In our experience, businesses around the world are moving towards a mix of investment in edge technology which communicates with the data centre and cloud. This seamless operability between devices and the cloud provides a very compelling business case.”

For many years Stratus has supported financial institutions with uptime solutions. “We are now transferring this technology to the industrial sectors, which often require continuous availability for their software application. Perhaps more importantly is how we are making this technology user friendly so that it does not require IT resources to support its deployment and maintenance”, Hookings concluded.

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