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The Xbox “cheat” for industrial computing

Author : By Greg Hookings, Head of Business Development

22 August 2019

It’s been a busy few months at Stratus as we take our ztC (Zero Touch control) Edge platform out and about meeting customers and visiting trade shows with our partners. I learn so much at these events – not least the challenges that modern industry faces in adopting the level of connectivity required for digital transformation. So what if I told you there is a “cheat” to unlock Industry 4.0 superpowers?

At our recent events, we’ve used console gaming as a really simple way of communicating the evolution of 4IR. It’s also a great excuse to have some vintage consoles on our stands – we’ve even given these away to lucky winners of our onsite competitions. They have proved to be a great conversation starter, since the majority of people attending the events have fond memories of consoles from Atari, Sega, Nintendo and more recently Xbox. The power of these games machines has grown rapidly over time, with the most modern Xboxes offering a rich, life-like experience with super-fast gameplay and razor-sharp, realistic graphics – all playable over the internet, linking your console to that of anyone, anywhere in the world.

The same can be said for industrial computing, which now offers much more processing power than was possible during Industry 2.0 and Industry 3.0, when mechanisation and early software enablement evolved in the industrial sector. Similarly, they offer virtualisation technologies, fault tolerance, better uptime and level of connectivity not previously possible. In a word, computing power is becoming an industry superpower. Enterprises that are connected and taking advantage of the new era are batting away the Atari or Sega era competition as easily as Lara Croft saw off Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario a generation back in gaming.

Whilst there are many comparisons between industry and gaming there is one main differentiator. Gaming moves faster than industry, not the technology but the applications. Our nostalgia filled exhibition stands aside, there aren’t many gamers playing on their early 90s Sega Megadrive. Games consoles now let players compete in real-time, online, with gamers all over the world. Their consoles are now ‘Things’ of the IoT. They are much, much more capable.

Industry on the other hand is often working with computing infrastructure, networks and IT solutions that are from the 90s. And it is certainly working with hardware technologies that are from that era – from packaging machines to mixing and blending machines, to water or oil pumping stations etc. Modern edge computing, to many with such established legacy architecture seems a long way off. And this was apparent from my conversations with many industry and plant managers, who assume that the IT element of such new technologies mean that they are out of reach for now.

The “cheat” is simply that with Edge computing solutions, the advantages of 4IR computing are not out of reach. There is no need to be troubled by the IT-heavy, iterative progress of the past 10-15 years. You can leap-frog to now (like Frogger!) and superpower your existing infrastructure with edge computing technology that is as easy to deploy as…you guessed it, an Xbox.

The ztC Edge conforms to our vision at Stratus – that computing at the edge must be simple, protected and autonomous for industry to grab the potential of Industry 4.0 with both hands. If you want to find out more about how that works, have a watch of this.

I want to finish on that simplicity point. It is well understood that significant challenges for industry in the adoption of Industry 4.0 exist around skills (IT skills in particular) and security. Edge computing can really be considered a “cheat” in this way – since it is so simple to set up a 6 year old can do it. And since it allows for data processing and actionable information to occur at the application level, there is less need to send information to the cloud. The cloud reduces the real-time benefits and increases the security complexities…but this…is the topic for my next blog.


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