Dell has found that many enterprise projects involving the Internet of Things (IoT) are being held back owing to a clash of cultures, as they are typically driven by a line of business in the organisation instead of the firm's IT department.
The term 'IoT' has been adopted to cover a diverse range of use cases, but the technology is typically being used in the business arena to drive the digital transformation of physical infrastructure and the environment, to control heating, lighting and other systems, for example.
This may require connecting equipment to the network that has not traditionally been connected, and sensor-enabling objects and the environment to gather data for the purposes of analysis and driving greater efficiencies.
But while this involves technologies and equipment that may be familiar to the organisation's IT department, it is not the IT department that drives the adoption of the IoT, and IT may even be hindering it, according to Dell.
"There are two different organisations that are clashing in the customers we have seen. One is the traditional IT department and they are not the catalyst of these projects. It's not like the CIO wakes up one day and says: ‘Hey. I need smarter asset management for my shipping containers.' Instead it's the business side or the operations technology side," said Andy Rhodes (pictured), executive director for IoT solutions at Dell.
This leads to problems because the two departments have often operated in their own silos and traditionally had little contact with each other, Rhodes explained.
"We have about 150 proof-of-concepts based on our gateway devices, and in a lot of those meetings, when we pitched the concept, the customer's IT and operations technology people were in the same room for the first time," he said.
This has to change, otherwise a lot of such projects risk foundering or seeing critical areas such as security neglected, he added, or firms will end up replicating existing areas of competency, such as in analytics.
Meanwhile, Rhodes said that, although he may be head of Dell's IoT division, he dislikes the term ‘IoT' because it has become such a vague catch-all label that is often misused and misapplied.
"When you get to the right people involved with these projects, they don't call it ‘IoT' at all. They're doing fleet management or asset management of containers or building management," he said.
Whatever you call it, IoT deployment calls for special requirements, because the kit will be expected to operate in often harsh everyday environments, rather than the air conditioned clean rooms typically used to house servers and other traditional IT equipment.
"We have this philosophy at Dell that we want to make the gateways and the rest of the solution look like operations technology on the outside, but look like IT on the inside," Rhodes said.
"The operations people need to know what they are plugging in and how and where it plugs in, plus it needs to meet industrial specs because in building management the gateway will probably be in the boiler room or in a wiring closet. But everything then comes onto the network, and if the gateway looks like IT on the inside, IT can manage it just like every other device on the network with the same tools and the same protocols."
One result of this approach is the recently launched Dell Edge Gateway 5000 Series, which is based on Intel's IoT Gateway reference platform and thus uses similar technology to a PC on the inside, but encased in an industrial-grade enclosure for mounting on a wall or a DIN rail.
A gateway device such as this is intended to serve as the linchpin of an industrial IoT deployment. It is designed to control sensors and other hardware, while linking to the network to relay data and link with central management systems.
Crucially, the gateway is also expected to have enough local intelligence to keep things running if the network goes down, often requiring it to carry out local analysis of the data it gathers from sensors.
Local processing is also key because the potential time and cost of collecting all the data from numerous sources may simply be too much, according to Rhodes.
"People say that everything can be done with wireless networks, but the reality is that you soon start generating petabytes of data, and transmitting that in its raw state across the world is just cost prohibitive in some of the business models," he said.
Interestingly, while Dell is set to support Windows 10 IoT and Intel's Wind River Linux on the Gateway 5000 Series, its platform of choice is Canonical's Ubuntu Snappy Core, a slimmed down version of the firm's Linux aimed at devices and which supports a "transactional" update model that allows easy deployment and rollback of software.
"It's Linux-based and that makes it easy to work with, and we're using Ubuntu Snappy because that makes it easy to layer on the services the end user wants. And it's ‘maker' community-friendly at the same time as coming from an enterprise-grade brand name," Rhodes said.
Meanwhile, Dell is keen to repeat its usual mantra that it is all about customer choice. So while the firm has tools such as the Dell Boomi integration platform and Statistica analytics software available for back-end processing of data, it is willing to build the solution that customers want.
However, IoT solutions have proved to be a slightly different kettle of fish to the services Dell has been used to offering its clients. For one thing, IoT covers such a broad range of use cases that each customer deployment is often very different from the next one.
In addition, IoT solutions often involve a rethink about who exactly the customer is. As an example, KMC Controls is a building automation specialist that has started using Dell's Gateway 5000 Series and other products in its portfolio, but the end user of the technology could ultimately be a property management company or the organisation that occupies the building.
"It's a complex supply chain, and that's why you can't have strict boundaries because every scenario is slightly different, the business model is different and the technology is different and the way each company is deploying it is different," Rhodes said.
Russian Taiga smartphone promises snoop-proof communications - coming soon to employees of Russian state-owned firms
Eugene Kaspersky's ex outs smartphone that claims to prevent apps from spying on users
Deloitte accused of leaving its internal Active Directory server exposed to the internet with RDP open
Deloitte accused of lax systems administration and security practices over email hack
Lax systems administration practices blamed for exposing millions of sensitive client emails
The new processors support Intel's Optane memory acceleration technology