Dell IoT: Pushing the Edge of End-to-End Computing

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 1, 2017

There was a time when end-to-end computing – that is, delivering solutions from the desktop to the data center and everything in between – dominated system vendor thinking. That was the case in the 1990s when companies, including IBM, HP and Compaq all pursued end-to-end strategies, and even mainly data center-centric vendors that shunned desktop PCs, like Sun Microsystems, still offered signature workstation endpoints.

Things inevitably change, of course. HP bought Compaq and refocused its brand on budget PC lines. IBM sold its PC unit and then its x86 server business to Lenovo as part of a broad retreat from commodity technologies. Sun’s workstation business, along with the rest of the company, fell victim to increasingly robust Intel-based PCs and servers. Most recently, HP spun itself into two companies: one focused exclusively on data center offerings (HPE) and the other on PCs and printing/imaging products (HPQ).

But two other vendors have headed in a distinctly opposite direction.Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s PC and system assets inspired a solid and increasingly varied set of end-to-end solutions. Dell leveraged its own organic development efforts, along with the acquisition of EMC, into a muscular, enterprise-class, end-to-end portfolio. In fact, Dell loves to enthusiastically (some would say gleefully) contrast its diverse solutions with competitors whose end-to-end strategies have steadily withered.

The new Edge Gateway 3000 Series that Dell introduced this week at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona shows how the company is doubling down on an emerging end-to-end methodology – edge-to-core-to-cloud – inspired by the industrial use cases and the Internet of Things (IoT). Let’s take a look at Dell’s new solutions and what they say about the company, the larger industry and the evolution of end-to-end computing.

Dell’s Edge Gateway 3000 Series

Dell’s new Edge Gateway 3000 Series complements the company’s other IoT-enabling solutions, the Edge Gateway 5000 Series and the Embedded Box PC 3000 and 5000 Series. While the 5000 Series is designed for fixed use cases requiring modular expansion, large sensor networks and more advanced edge analytics, Dell says the 3000 Series is ideal for fixed and mobile use cases where smaller sensor networks, tight spaces and simpler analytics are common.

Accordingly, Dell is delivering three Edge Gateway 3000 solutions:

  • Model 3001 for industrial automation and energy management (includes multi-function I/O port and programmable serial ports)
  • Model 3002 for transportation and logistics (includes a CAN bus for land/marine protocols, integrated ZigBee for mesh sensor networks)
  • Model 3003 for digital signage and retail (includes a Display Port output for video (2560×1600) and 3.5mm line in/line out for quality audio streaming)

Developed by Dell’s team of rugged product engineers, Gateway 3000 Series offerings share similar technical attributes, including: Intel Atom processors; 2 GB RAM and 8 GB eMMC storage; Ethernet and USB ports; certification for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE; 3G or 4G LTE cellular options for select countries; integrated digital GPS, accelerometers, and atmospheric pressure sensors; support for power options ranging from 12-57 VDC, as well as Power-over-Ethernet (PoE); and the ability to operate in temperature extremes from -30°C to 70°C.

The new solutions can also be adapted for applications beyond their target use cases. For example, I/O capabilities can be expanded via third party USB dongles and distributed I/O options. Accessories, such as mounts for locations like a factory wall DIN rail or under the hood of an 18-wheeler are also available. Antennas certified to match the models’ integrated wireless capabilities and onboard storage can be expanded by up to 64GB via SD cards.

The Dell Edge Gateway 3000 Series will be available in early summer 2017 starting at $399 USD.

End-to-end – A new beginning

How do Dell’s new Gateway 3000 offerings point to a new generation of and reality for end-to-end computing? In the 1990s, IT vendors’ end-to-end solutions and strategies reflected business customers’ recognition of the value that networked PCs operated by employees could provide to their companies. The last 30+ years have proved that notion through the digital enhancement of business tasks and improved efficiencies.

IoT promises to extend the concept of connected computing by orders of magnitude. But rather than digitally enabling individuals and work groups, IoT promises to heighten an organization’s understanding of operational technology (OT) assets and use cases. Those OT assets can be as varied as a commercial air conditioner, an injection molding machine on a manufacturing line, a heavy-duty truck engine, a massive industrial pump and herds of cattle or even individual cows.

These assets and use cases can be thought of as “islands of automation” in the sense that as they work or perform, they generate data that can be accessed, gathered and processed with the help of digital sensors. Due to rapid declines in sensor costs, advances in software-defined infrastructure and the rising popularity of mobility and cloud, sensor-generated OT data can be securely integrated into IT processes via trusted networks.

As a result, organizations can gain real insights into their OT processes that help them to make deterministic, mission critical decisions in real time. IoT devices like Dell’s new Gateway 3000 Series can be used to collect massive volumes of OT data and perform preliminary analytics at the network edge. Those steps are key to identifying important information and cost-effectively transferring it for further analysis in core business and cloud data centers.

Along with the new Gateway 3000 Series, Gateway 5000 Series and the Embedded Box PC 3000 and 5000 Series, other Dell EMC assets complement the company’s vision for the future of industrial IoT. Those include its Pivotal cloud native application development tools, RSA threat detection/response solutions, SecureWorks security management offerings, VirtuStream cloud management software and VMware solutions for IoT asset management.

Final analysis

The edge-to-core-to-cloud processes at the center of Dell’s IoT strategy represent an essentially new model of end-to-end computing, but the complexity of these processes and the way solutions reflect their respective industries and use cases reflects another shift in how Dell is approaching IoT.

The company recognized from the beginning that developing an IoT portfolio would require evolving an ecosystem of partners with deep experience in specific industries, technologies and services. That’s just what Dell has done and is continuing to do, allowing the company to pick the best opportunities for its own offerings and innovations to shine, and engaging expert partners to help leverage Dell solutions in other areas.

It isn’t enough anymore for a vendor to simply focus its attention on the places where data always has been. In order to fully serve their clients, vendors have to be prepared to go where data is and help customers in the journey. That is certainly Dell’s plan, and the new Edge Gateway 3000 Series, along with the company’s other IoT-enabling solutions demonstrates Dell’s intention to be ideally positioned and prepared to support its customers’ quests for business-critical information whatever their requirements and wherever that data resides.

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