Schneider Electric held its Innovation Summit North America 2018 on November 13-14, at the Hilton Downtown Atlanta. The event, hosted by Schneider Electric leadership, brought together more than 1,200 experts, Schneider Electric customers, and industry thought leaders for an exploration of the digital forces that are shaping our future.

At the event, Mission Critical Magazine sat down with Steve Carlini, vice president, Innovation & Data Center, Schneider Electric; Cissy Walker, global director, IT Alliances, Schneider Electric; Jeff Ready, CEO, Scale Computing; and Doug Howell, global director of Alliances, Scale Computing, to talk about what the future has in store for the mission critical industry, edge data centers, and the new products unveiled at the summit.

Mission Critical Magazine: Edge computing is seen by some as a decentralization approach, obviously. Aside from the electrical grid issues in remote locations, what other factors may hinder the further development of edge computing? Any speed bumps? Any hurdles you might anticipate as more edge applications are deployed?

Jeff Ready: Scale’s software stack addresses the problem at the edge that there are often no IT people and so you don’t have the hands-on expertise. Oftentimes, you don’t even have what they call smart hands. It might be a grocery store or a fast food chain, so you need a new level of automation to make those edge environments work. If you are going to deploy a mission critical application in an environment where you traditionally have not had those kinds of resources, not having that expertise is a challenge to overcome.

Doug Howell: That’s a great point. The argument is there is a lot of IT being deployed and edge applications that aren’t being secured so there is an argument for security, breaches, and physical security as well. One of the things that seems kind of funny is that these are getting so small that it is going to be possible to pack them up and put them in the back of a pick-up truck and drive away with them. So they have to be secured so that’s one of the questions we’re getting, ‘what can you do?’ On the other side, people don’t know about the environment. So, if you are going into a loading dock, if you are going into a manufacturing environment, if you are going into a controlled environment, there are noise issues. If you are trying to put it into an office space sometimes, we have solutions that get rid of a lot of the noise for those types of applications, but people may have the impression that they are going to be loud because of the servers that are involved. So that is a concern that we have addressed in some of the enclosures that we do.

Mission Critical Magazine: One of the sessions is titled Power Distribution Redefined. Using that theme, how is Schneider Electric redefining the edge?

Steve Carlini: We are redefining the edge in many ways. Where is the edge? It is moving the processing and data delivery closer to the users and we are seeing a big move to what we call the regional edge, but I think it is going closer and closer to local sites. From a power perspective it is not that challenging and power is not that hard to get. It’s more challenging from a cooling perspective to deploy these from a physical infrastructure perspective.

Mission Critical Magazine:  Especially from an aggressive environment.

Carlini: Yes.

Mission Critical Magazine: Cloud’s almost becoming a term that is over-used and somewhat passé. What is the future of cloud given projected user demands, macro industry demands, total demand?

Carlini: Fifty percent of the servers are still going into the centralized cloud data center, so there we are still seeing massive growth and internet traffic. We are seeing less and less going into the enterprise because enterprise is actually shrinking. Schneider Electric has a modernization business based on the fact that data centers are getting much smaller and the space is being repurposed for other things like rec centers, day care facilities, lunchrooms. There is a massive downsizing going on in enterprise. But we’re seeing, on the other side, on the flip side, we’re seeing the internet giants are planning to double capacity in the next couple years. So we don’t see any slowing down on that side. But we do see the need to reduce latency and move things to the edge.

Ready: I think that the point is that applications should run wherever they make the most sense. And, what probably doesn’t make the most sense when you are thinking where the application should run is coincidentally at the corporate headquarters, the enterprise deployment. That’s been the traditional way to do it because it is centralized IT because you push stuff into the cloud or out to the edge, you’re choosing those locations because that is where the application makes sense. And so it naturally eats away at that traditional enterprise deployment. But you’re going to see growth still in the cloud and edge deployments.

Carlini: I think we are going to see an acceleration of edge as hyper-conversion computers are popping up. We are seeing them in retail, or fast food, or quick service — I don’t know what the politically correct thing to call them — I call them fast food locations. There is a name for them. I think it’s quick service or quick something.

Ready: Quick service restaurants. QSRs if you are in the business.

Carlini: Yes, QSRs. Quick service restaurants. And you are seeing a lot more IT in big box stores too, such as WalMart, Home Depot. You can download the Home Depot app and when you go to their store they send you information as you walk up and down the aisles. And if you stop, the app knows where you stop and it sends you more information. It is amazing, the amount of technology going into these stores.

Ready: And most of those types of applications are running local in the store for lots of different reasons. Latency is part of it. Internet connectivity is notoriously poor in many of these sites, and it’s a Comcast cable modem kind of connection to the internet and so you can imagine if you are driving 20% more to the top line by sending an impromptu ad as I am wandering through the Home Depot, you don’t want that to stop because Comcast just flaked out.

Mission Critical Magazine: What Schneider Electric products focus on cyber security and will there be a big push in the future?

Carlini: For cyber security we have our EcoStuxure for data center architecture and all the connected devices are encrypted and secure. One of the interesting things about edge computing, is that actually, because of the physical nature of the local connections, it is naturally more cyber secure than having everything going through the airwaves. If you have a cyber security strategy in one of these sites, it’s much easier to protect your data with an edge data center where you only have one pipe to the cloud, which a lot of people haven’t thought about yet.

Mission Critical Magazine: Are there other innovations Schneider Electric has on the horizon?

Carlini: For the bigger sites we are looking at including GPUs into server chassis for artificial intelligence applications. And we are investing heavily in liquid cooling right now because the heat output is very, very high, much higher than traditional intel chips. Deploying this processing power in the scale that it needs to be in without using too much physical real estate is going to happen. It’s not going to happen broad base, but it is definitely going to happen in niche environments and we will start seeing data centers with a mix of air cooling and liquid cooling.

Liquid cooling may even make sense in edge environments because the biggest challenge for us for edge deployments is how to cool them and liquid cooling. If we could come up with a way to use some kind of liquid cooling it would be a good solution.

Going back to innovation on the cloud and with Scale, having the cloud anywhere, basically means you can have your cloud stacks in different locations and it is transparent to the user. So with our partners at Scale, I think you are going to see these cloud stacks. Maybe Stack can speak more about what they are doing for deployments and extending the cloud.

Ready: In effect we are making it seamless. So there is just an application running and no user is thinking about “where is it?” Is it local, is it in the cloud, is there any difference? Again, you just run the application where it makes sense. To back up Steve’s comment, we are seeing the deployment of GPUs at the edge and they do run hot. But you are trying to run neural networks and AI, and part of the reason is you want that processing to be very low latency, real-time decision making. We see it in manufacturing. There is an assembly line doing something, cameras are watching something and making a real-time decision. You don’t want the latency of the cloud or the flakiness of that Comcast cable modem I talked about in the way, yet you are probably already deploying that edge stack in an environmentally questionable area before you added a whole bunch of heat on top of it, which is why cooling is a big deal. In the end, what we are bringing to the table with Schneider is a singular platform that extends from the edge to the cloud in a hybrid fashion and lets the applications run wherever they make sense.

Mission Critical Magazine: Would you like to elaborate at this point about the IT Expert product that was mentioned earlier in the day?

Carlini: Yes, the traditional way of managing data centers, especially enterprise data centers, was to install an application on-site, have it monitored through the local network. It was a system that operated probably pretty efficiently when it was first installed, but as you add equipment, take equipment out, it was very, very difficult to maintain those types of systems.

It makes a lot more sense just to send the data to a cloud application, and as you have new data it is discovered and sent into a cloud application. And when you’re deploying on the edge and doing hundreds of thousands of sites, you can’t install individual software management at every site. You can, but it would be very expensive and almost impossible to maintain. So, to be able to monitor all of the sites from a cloud-based application, we have transitioned from a local type of management to a cloud-based management system.

The advantages of that are you are going to have a much bigger data pool where you can start looking at analytics, where you couldn’t really do that with a local instance so you have lots of sites reporting. You can start looking for trends and start looking for things in the data that are not aligned. For example, the biggest cause of data center outages: breakers being set incorrectly or in the wrong sequence. So the advantage of a cloud-based system is you can start easily monitoring the different domains, the building domain, the power domain, and all of the equipment that is in there. And it is not only Schneider equipment, it is third-party equipment as well.

One of the advantages of IT Expert, (announced at the event) is that it has benchmarking data so you can monitor all of the devices and it will categorize the device. For example, take a UPS. The system will indicate it is running at this temperature and it will benchmark it against all the other UPSs. If you have one that is running hot, it will benchmark it. It’s predictive maintenance.

And with the analytics, when you get enough data you can start doing condition-based maintenance vs. calendar-based maintenance. It is just a matter of getting all the data and start looking at the data for benefit of the customer. One other thing that is interesting about this product is that we not only give you alerts, we give you recommendations. If it is a battery and it is benchmarked and 90% of the batteries have failed during this time period, we recommend that you replace your battery. And, from your device, you can collaborate directly with our service bureau. If you receive a recommendation you can have the replacement appointment scheduled.

Another thing we do that is a little bit different is that we have an enduser version and a partner version of the software. We can send the data to the enduser, we can send it to the MSP, and the MSP can collaborate and decide what to do. You can do it yourself or you can have a partner do it.

Mission Critical Magazine: Thank you so much for your time.