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Amid all the excitement and noise around Generative AI, we need to spare a thought for all the designers, engineers, technicians and small businesses doing the hard yards to build the plumbing on which our always on, connected everywhere world relies. Frequently, the people and the organisations they work for go unheralded. Often, they provide components to larger, well-known companies to integrate into more complex whole products or solutions. Usually, the end customer never gets to know that key components have come from someone other than the branded company they are buying the product or solution from.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one area where hype and reality have collided and where a number of less well-known companies are working hard to address the challenges. From multiple different communication and connectivity standards, through security, network and data management challenges, down to the problems of provisioning, orchestration and control, the development of IoT, in the industrial sphere at least, has been somewhat slower than originally envisaged. Not least has been the challenge of integrating older, Operational Technology (OT) into a unified management approach and providing a convergence to future operational models.
A British company, IOTech, is one of those unheralded businesses, working quietly in the background to overcome the inherent challenges in making IoT, at any scale, complex to implement. I first encountered IOTech back in July 2022. It was a founding member of the Linux Foundation’s (LF) open source EdgeX Foundry project. Along with Intel, it is a major contributor of code for the project. Its Edge Xrt and Edge Xpert products were the core of the EdgeX Foundry solution and the basis of its own commercially supported version. Put simply, this software platform was designed to make it easier and faster to connect and manage IoT and OT devices that don’t normally play well together. The focus at the time was to leave developers free to develop applications without the constraints, in time and cost, of having to make sure the application works with all the required devices.
This week I had the opportunity to catch up with IOTech and get a briefing from Product Director, Andrew Foster, on developments at the company. Back in July last year, the company was emerging from startup mode. Now, following an undisclosed amount of Series B funding from Dell Technologies Capital, there is a greater focus on sales and marketing, and expansion in North America.
However, R&D still remains a major priority. Just a few days ago, on 14th November, IOTech announced the general availability of the Edge Central platform. Andrew explained that this is a development and rebranding of the original Edge XRT and Edge Xpert products. While existing connectivity and app developer capabilities and support remain, there has been an increased focus in providing a wide range of data management capabilities. Data can be extracted from a wide range of edge devices, normalised and used for local processing and analytics or packaged up for onward transmission to corporate data centres or the major cloud providers.
There is also significant management functionality which enables the large-scale provisioning, orchestration, monitoring and updating of IoT and OT devices. Depending on use cases and end user requirements it can be run on anything from a local server on, say, a manufacturing campus, to being deployed as a service in the Cloud to manage multiple, globally dispersed locations.
Modular elements of the platform are already being embedded into solutions from a number of major industrial OEMs in markets such as industrial automation and building management. I believe the relationship with EdgeX Foundry will see a much wider adoption of the platform, and a higher market profile for IOTech in 2024 as OEM’s and end user organisations realise the benefits and the open and interoperable nature of Edge Central. It might not be as exciting as Generative AI, but it is playing an important role in making the promise of IoT a reality.