VMware expands IoT offering with edge computing solution

A collection of IoT devices

VMware is pursuing a new direction as part of its IoT strategy, using hyperconverged infrastructure to offer complete, end-to-end solutions for edge computing.

Following the launch of VMware Pulse IoT Center, which went into general availability in January, VMware is offering a new range of complete IoT packages for various use-cases and applications. The company will be leveraging other areas of parent company Dell Technologies' business particularly its enterprise infrastructure wing, Dell EMC as well as partnering with third-party hardware and software providers.

"Building an edge computing solution today is a time-intensive exercise most enterprises can't afford," said Ray O'Farrell, VMware's executive vice president & chief technology officer. "Today, VMware unveils hyperconverged edge computing solutions that are cost-effective and will enable customers to build and scale secure, use case-specific IoT solutions that work for them from the edge all the way to the cloud, relying on proven, tested software they already use and trust."

The new edge compute packages will feature a suite of server hardware for infrastructure and gateway needs, courtesy of Dell EMC, which will include VMware Pulse IoT Center for monitoring IoT devices.

They will also include local compute capacity and gateway devices to allow for real-time analytics at the edge, with customers able to license business analytics tools from a number of third-party suppliers.

The products will initially be targeted at three verticles: remote locations such as oil rigs where harsh conditions and inconsistent power or data supplies may be a problem, factories where conditions are more stable but still fairly challenging, and retail branches where inter-branch communication is priority.

Although the offering is limited to on-prem deployments for now, a SaaS version is in the pipeline, which customers can trial a beta version of now the SaaS package. However, VMware's vice president of IoT Mimi Spier has stressed the new offering is designed to support a hybrid usage model.

"We're not focused just on on-prem, we are focused absolutely on the hybrid approach, and we believe a hybrid approach is the right approach," she told IT Pro. "The reason why is because even if you have great networking, if you're going to collect petabytes of data from your factory, you probably don't want to pay for the storage costs in the cloud, and you probably don't need all of that data for the deep learning that happens in the cloud."

Instead, she said, customers have been asking for the ability to run certain data analytics tasks locally, allowing them to discard the data needed for these tasks before shuttling the rest of the data up to the cloud for further use.

Two initial solutions have been announced, as part of partnerships with two companies: surveillance and CCTV provider Axis Communications and Wipro. The former has partnered with VMware and Dell EMC to offer connected cameras and 4G routers that will run on Pulse IoT Center, while the latter will offer a complete solution for monitoring factory floor equipment in manufacturing.

Wipro offers its own IoT platform, Looking Glass, which will be combined with Pulse IoT Center; Looking Glass will handle predictive analytics and data processing, while Pulse will help with management, monitoring and security.

While VMware has only announced solutions for two use-cases, the company has indicated it will be developing new partnerships across a wide range of IoT applications to develop further products. Spier also emphasised the need for the simplicity offered by an end-to-end solution, saying: "One of the customers that we're talking about has over 150,000 cameras that they will need to have managed, and that's just one use-case".

The solution is similar to AWS' Greengrass offering, an edge computing product designed to enable IoT operations in remote or inhospitable locations through onboard compute. As IoT attracts more and more attention from major organisations, the race is on to create solutions that will enable them to overcome the challenges that can sometimes hinder the deployment of IoT products.

VMware also announced that, as part of this effort, it will be funding two awards in partnership with the US' National Science Foundation. The prizes will be given to projects researching edge computing data infrastructure, with a total of $6 million up for grabs.

Creative Intellect analyst Bola Rotibi told IT Pro that VMware's move into edge computing is a smart one. "Its announcements for the additional ways in which it would support NFVs and its vision of the interplay between IT Clouds, Public Clouds and Telco Clouds, and how apps will sit between them, highlighted an organisation prepared for supporting different clouds with different players," she said.

"However, the company's recognition that more distributed computing at the edge would require a fleet of servers and hardware at the edge, which would require different ways to secure, ruggedise and manage, was not only a smart insight, but identifies how well placed the company is to both operate and deliver in this new market."

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.