A Q&A with HPE's IoT expert Dr. Tom Bradicich

At HPE, innovation is a top priority, and we’re leading the way in IoT with our focus on creating an “intelligent edge.” In this article, Dr. Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager of servers, converged edge, & IoT systems, discusses his role at HPE, his predictions for IoT and HPE’s vision for bringing intelligence to the edge..

Q: Tell us about your role at HPE?

A: My business unit creates and delivers server, converged edge, and IoT systems. These solutions operate both in the data center and cloud, as well as in the emerging intelligent edge and IoT marketplace. This means I have my foot in both worlds, which is essential as we lead the industry in the new product category of Converged Edge Systems to integrate IT and OT (operations technology) functions. A good company follows the trends, but a great company sets the trends. My team and I are charged with setting those trends.

Q: How do you spend your days at work?

A: I spend much of my time working to convince people to do something that's never been done before. The business of first mover innovation is very much about helping people overcome their reluctances. For example, large companies, by nature, are slower to adopt innovation and change. My goal is to change that pattern, by selling our approaches both internally and externally. This is an “intraprenuer” role —an entrepreneur inside a company. To this end, my team and I work closely with customers and industry partners to deploy our products and solutions. I also deliver keynotes at major conferences, speak at universities, and engage with industry analysts, all with the express purpose of influencing the industry toward emerging technological trends, and HPE’s value herein.

Q: IoT is a new, innovative space. How did you first get involved in IoT?

A: Well, innovation can be either something new or something nobody remembers. In the case of IoT, it’s a bit of both. That is, much of this technology has been around for a long time, just not called IoT, such as M2M (machine-to-machine) and OT (operations technology) solutions. Still, there is so much that is new and so much to invent.

Before joining HPE, I worked at National Instruments, which is an OT company active in the IoT, providing data capture, and control systems—a crucial component of the intelligent edge. OT is a market place separate from the data center and the world of IT. While at National Instruments, I engaged on the operational side, and since I already had the background on the IT side from working at IBM, it was natural for me to branch into one of my current missions at HPE, which is taking HPE IT assets and products, and merging with the world of OT, out at the edge. This IT-OT convergence for the intelligent edge is an area where HPE is a first mover. Combine this with our other IoT related assets, and we’re set apart in the industry.

Q: What makes you most excited about the possibilities of IoT?

A: I love the idea of using technology to improve lives. While we can use technology for many things such as entertainment and regular communication, it can also be used to help ill and needy people, and those in dire or compromising situations. I also like the idea of using technology to improve the efficiency of people’s work lives, which frees them to focus on other parts of their personal lives.

Q: You mentioned the intelligent edge. Can you explain what the term means?

A: I think it’s important to deconstruct the two words first, and talk about each separately. The edge is a place where a lot is happening, especially in regards to IoT. The edge is not a data center or a cloud. But instead, it’s the manufacturing floor, a campus, a branch, a wind farm, a crop field, a plane, a train, an automobile on the road, city facilities, an oil rig in the ocean, a military submarine, or a school classroom.

There are several types of intelligent edges, which can be portioned into three broad categories – OT (operational technology) edges, IoT (Internet of Things) edges, and IT (information technology) edges. OT edge examples a power plant or an off-shore oil rig. IT edges are common in the telecommunications, media industries for distributed data transfer and processing, as well as distributed computing in branch offices and campuses. The IoT edge is of great interest today, as the IoT has now achieved celebrity status.

Concerning the intelligence part, we do this by imputing the following three attributes at the edge:

  • Connectivity – We expect that certain devices such as laptops, cellphones and tablets are connected. However, the edge becomes more intelligent when we connect other things that are not normally connected, such as clothing, gadgets, and eyeglasses, or direct wired connectivity to industrial things such as pumps, turbines, and engines. All these connected things must be intelligently and securely configured and operated.
  • Compute – Processing data at the edge, as opposed to sending the data to the cloud, is where much of the power of the edge comes into play. When a farmer uses a smart tractor to determine the soil conditions, he is using computing intelligence to derive immediate insights from data. Or, video surveillance, used for safety or security, captures voluminous data sets too large or move too slowly to send to the cloud. Hence computing at the edge is needed, right at the point of data capture.
  • Control – Control and actuation of the devices and things at edge, or taking some business action is the essence of the intelligent edge. When an autonomous car approaches a red light, the computing systems determine, through collected data, that it should stop. However, it’s the control system that actuates the brakes to stop the car.

Q: What are customers’ biggest challenges in developing an IoT strategy today?

A: I don’t believe any of the challenges are insurmountable, but the top ones I see are:

  • Business case – Companies need to quantify the business case and the ROI in improving their business. They must find ways to use IoT and intelligent edge technologies ultimately to either reduce costs, or generate more revenue, and to justify the investment to their shareholders.
  • Security –The increasing amounts of connected sensors and things in your home and office, so it’s essential that the connections are as secure as possible. Every network-connected thing can provide another vulnerable access point for cybercriminals or other hostile acts.
  • Complexity – It’s challenging to blend advanced IT and intelligent OT together simply because it’s uncommon. The unfamiliarity make it inherently complex.

Q: What are the major steps companies should be thinking about?

A: To begin to intelligently connect things at the edge, pick a

 
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small project, a slice of your business that needs to be improved. Start with your physical assets—for example, a manufacturing plant’s assets would be its conveyors and inventory, a power company’s would be its turbine or chemical refinery’s pumps and valves.

Here’s an example: On a manufacturing floor, connect the pumps and valves to a network via sensors, to determine temperature, pressure, vibration and moisture. By using this information, you can help prevent failure, avoid unnecessary maintenance, and increase efficiencies.

Another approach is to consider how your business will change in the future, Create a new way of doing business as opposed to just making an existing way better. For example, the insurance industry will likely change significantly with self-driving cars. It’s a reasonable assumption that the autonomous vehicle, driverless, could be warrantied versus conventionally insured. Therefore, the approach would be to begin building the IoT and intelligence edge systems at the edge—which in this case is the street, while the “thing” is the actual car.

Q: How is your team and HPE helping customers move to the Intelligent Edge?

A: We provide products, solutions, and experiences, expressly designed for the intelligent edge, such as the Universal IoT Platform and Aruba connectivity. And, our new Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, which integrate connectivity, computing, and control all in one box. Second, we are building customers IoT solutions, either prototype or production deployment. This is done with combination of HPE GES engineering, my business unit, and Pointnext services.

Q: What is HPE’s role in revolutionizing the intelligent edge and IoT?

A: First, we have an existing portfolio of battle-hardened assets that we can bring to bear on the emerging intelligent edge. We don’t have to invent computing systems, connectivity, security, or storage. As a technology leader, we leverage our existing assets already proven as a world leader in the data center and cloud. Couple that with our global reach and time-tested culture of innovation and invention, and we’re taking first mover technology to the next level in ways that have never been seen before.

Q: Over time, how do you see traditional OT and embedded systems at the edge evolving?

A: Current proprietary closed systems, although effective in many ways, are expensive, and limit flexibility. But at HPE, we are creating a future where there are open industry standards and software defined solutions, which will enable companies to enjoy broader choice in products, tools, and skills. This in turn will result in solutions that are more efficient, simpler, and secure.

Q: Where do you see the industry in 3 to 5 years?

A: We will see extreme intelligence shifting out of the data center toward the edge, and emerging organically, embedded in things and devices. Recently many notable companies evolved their thinking to include a converged intelligence at the edge, which now shares the spotlight that was predominately on the cloud. In three to five years, we will see greater business, engineering, and scientific benefits of this perpetual connectivity and ubiquitous intelligence. If you take a beach ball and draw a small dot on it the size of a penny – the beach ball represents what there is to know about the intelligent edge and IoT. The dot represents what we as an industry know today. There is much to discover and invent.