A different view from the edge

How Dell NativeEdge provides the single pane of glass which harmonizes your IT and OT perspective

Sponsored Feature With technology, as with real estate, location is everything. The new, post-pandemic world of distributed information technology (IT) means that the physical separation between core enterprise infrastructure and the operational technology (OT) systems that monitor and control industrial equipment is perhaps more acute than ever.

Server, storage and networking architectures are being optimized for operation in low power, space constrained edge environments that used to be solely the domain of OT. But the challenge for the technology professionals now tasked with looking after the many different elements involved can still have very different perspectives on their roles and responsibilities.

The information technology (IT) specialists who look after corporate infrastructure will often have a longer-term, more strategic outlook, developing core systems for the future, for example. A single server going down is not ideal, but not necessarily catastrophic. Operational technology (OT) staff's concerns are typically more immediate. That's because if a server tied to a specific production line or industrial system goes down, it probably has to be addressed immediately.

This difference in outlook might not have been a problem a decade or two ago, when the systems each team managed were very separate. But the evolution of the edge means enterprise architectures can span centralized datacenters, the public cloud, localized compute, and operational systems.

As Pierluca Chiodelli, VP Product Management for Edge Solutions at Dell, explains - this has all happened alongside an explosion in telemetry, video streaming, and IoT data. The maturing of technologies around AI and machine learning, together with new form factors, means this data can be processed nearer the source, "and start generating real time insights."

Watching and working together

Which means IT and OT staff need to work together, even if they are physically apart. And research by Dell highlights just how big the difference in perspective can be between operations and IT staffers, and how this can affect their ability to carry out their roles.

IT professionals are more likely to find deploying and connecting edge infrastructure a challenge than OT pros. That might not be surprising when an upgrade at a retail chain could mean staffers visiting hundreds, even thousands, of individual sites. That's a lot of time and expertise sucked up before anyone even touches a computer.

And while IT will often have a more forward-looking, strategic focus, much of IT pros' day-to-day work can be rather mundane. In fact, says Chiodelli, when it comes to edge operations, "76 percent of their time is spent on tasks that seem to be repetitive and routine in nature."

These tasks span issues such as troubleshooting, or lifecycle management tasks such as patching and ensuring compliance, as well as managing security. These tasks all suck up staffers' time.But they simply can't be compromised on. That's particularly true when it comes to ensuring security across today's complex networks. General IT and dedicated security teams face a rising tide of threat actors looking to exploit and pounce on any vulnerability or unpatched component.

The diffuse, even remote, nature of edge deployments can mean they may seem more vulnerable, and harder to manage, than traditional datacenter or cloud installations. This can be further compounded by the pressure operational teams may feel, or exert, to get a stalled production line or drilling site back up and running.

Dell's research shows IT pros generally find edge security tasks more time consuming than operations pros. Over a third of those surveyed cited regulatory security requirements and compliance documentation as a time challenge, compared to less than one in five OT pros. Just under a quarter of IT pros flagged up ensuring lifecycle management for application software and security patching, compared to just 5 percent of their counterparts in OT.

This difference also feeds through to differences in how IT and OT teams view edge investment decisions. For OT pros, the top ranked consideration was purchasing edge infrastructure, named by 38 percent, while tracking edge infrastructure products as they ship was named by 31 percent.

But the same research also showed 58 percent of IT professionals saw integrating new products with existing hardware as their number one consideration. And the second ranked issue was monitoring networking security using edge infrastructure, flagged by 38 percent of IT pros.

A single platform to bind them

These are things that really should be automated where possible and managed centrally. And, of course, that's particularly true of security concerns, where one neglected or misconfigured patch can spell disaster. Achieving this and ensuring IT and OT staff were better aligned in general, would allow both to focus their limited time and resources on more strategic, higher value tasks.

"If these two teams operate separately, then you're going to compromise on several fronts," says Chiodelli.

So, it seems logical that this is best achieved with a single platform that helps both teams achieve their key outcomes. That's one reason why , an edge operations software platform is aimed at both infrastructure management and application orchestration.

A key element is its use of blueprints to manage orchestration and ensure consistency in the underlying instances and infrastructure applications are running on. The blueprints are, effectively, templates encapsulating the correct application settings, infrastructure resources, network configurations, workflows, and scripts for a given workload. "In short," explains Chiodelli, "blueprints connect business outcomes to the technical details required to implement them, making it easy for businesses to add new outcomes across their edge estate."

Moreover, if a security or other update is needed once a workload or application has been deployed, "It can be done once, by the IT staff," explains Chiodelli. "And then once you update the blueprint, you can push it out to all the 1000 instances".

But customers also can optimize those blueprints for their own edge scenarios or create their own from scratch. An organization might configure a blueprint to automate the deployment of workloads in bulk across their edge estate, for example.

Crucially the platform takes a zero-trust approach to security from the outset, giving organizations the ability to set up security controls centrally, and enforce them automatically when new devices and applications are added to the edge infrastructure.

This frees up time for IT and OT professionals, but also ensures that tasks are accomplished correctly at scale. "IT staff don't feel rushed and compromised with security," says Chiodelli, "While at the same time OT people don't feel they're slowed down."

Automating DevOps philosophies

It's not hard to see how this reflects and plays into the principles behind modern software development practices such as DevOps, continuous integration and delivery, and the associated workloads. Practices that typically result in the rapid spinning up, and closing down, of multiple environments and resources for development, testing, and deployment.

A recent Dell white paper – DevOps at the Edge - explains how NativeEdge leverages and automates DevOps philosophies, practices, and tooling, "to expedite that CI/CD pipeline across multicloud. The focus being on the day two operations."

This has an impact on resiliency too, when it comes to implementing changes consistently or rolling back changes, if necessary, across thousands of instances. "When you do deployment through blueprints, it becomes a very easy job for the DevOps folks to just connect to the blueprint, and let it take care of everything consistently," points out Chiodelli.

NativeEdge itself is designed to be open from the outset: "We give the enterprises the flexibility to choose the ISV apps that they want. Whether it's their own homegrown apps, or their preferred ISV apps, we can onboard those apps onto the platform."

The same principles apply to the underlying infrastructure. That could be Dell's dedicated NativeEdge endpoints comprising select Dell edge hardware optimized for the platform to deliver greater control and secure device onboarding with zero touch provisioning, or generic hardware and an enterprise's preferred cloud(s).

IT and OT staff can orchestrate edge applications and edge workloads onto the cloud consistently from a single pane of glass in NativeEdge. "You have the flexibility, and consistency to deploy your application workloads at scale," says Chiodelli. "And those instances will always be consistent, because they're all coming from the same blueprint. Define your business outcomes, distill them into a blueprint, and you can easily and automatically deploy them wherever and whenever you need them."

Likewise, the combination of zero touch and zero trust, means hardware can be deployed consistently, with the right applications every time, securely and efficiently.

Of course, there may need to be differences from one region to the next, or from site to site. But, as Chiodelli explains, when IT and OT are seeing things from a single, central console, underpinned by the same blueprints "the differences are also consistent."

And when OT and IT teams need only focus on the exceptions, they are both freed-up to spend time on their real jobs – driving innovation, whether at the core or right out at the edge.

Commissioned by Dell Technologies.

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