The future of enterprise IT: Where Lenovo is taking edge computing

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The future of enterprise IT: Where Lenovo is taking edge computing

Lenovo is marking the 30th anniversary of its ThinkSystem products in 2022, but the company is busy looking to the future of enterprise IT. The $70 billion-plus company believes customers need a new IT architecture that can span from client to edge and to the cloud.

To that end, the company aims to provide scalable hardware and software solutions that can manage data across hybrid cloud and edge environments, including conventional and AI workloads in markets such as retail, manufacturing, finance, healthcare, telecom and other sectors. Recent announcements cover the gamut, from AMD, Intel and NVIDIA-powered systems to a new version of Lenovo Open Cloud Automation for automating the management of these hybrid environments.

EdgeIR spoke with Charles Ferland, Vice President and General Manager, Edge Computing and Telecom at Lenovo about the company’s perspective on the evolution of the market and to talk about where customers are successfully deploying edge computing solutions.

EdgeIR: How are enterprises responding to the need to leverage data that’s being created at the edge? 

Charles Ferland (CF): What we realize now is that the data is already created at edge locations like retail stores, factories, planes, cars and so on. [For example,] video cameras are already deployed and monitoring the facilities or the environment. Typically, these video feeds are archived into tape or a digital storage solution. We don’t get any insight out of the data until there’s an incident and we go back to that recording. So, the data is actually created, but we’re not taking advantage of it.

The first question is, why is that? [One reason is that] it would take a massive amount of network at each site to bring video feeds from all cameras, all the time to the cloud. That often is not available at the edge and could be expensive to process this at the cloud. The other reason is with IoT devices, gateways or industrial PCs, there’s nothing powerful enough to really process this data accurately at the edge.

The big change that happened in the last few years is the introduction of edge computing, which is really computing capability that you would expect on a data center or in the cloud that is packaged into a much smaller, much more ruggedized form factor that can be easily deployed into these edge sites and process the data to deliver the insight.

EdgeIR: To what degree are customers starting to take advantage of edge computing? 

CF: The beauty is that once you have that computing capability in the facility, you can start at whatever level you want. In some cases, [we’ve seen] a gas station just virtualize a point-of-sale application, the installed music system, and whatever application is used to control the pump. Then, they realize that if they bring the video feed to the edge server in the store, they could run an application that counts foot traffic in the store and keep statistics on how long the queue is at a cash register at any given time. Now, the retailer can get insights; they can reassign personnel shifts to be working at [a different] time of the week. That becomes extremely valuable to deliver better customer service.

EdgeIR: Lenovo’s ThinkPad brand and the history of innovations in portable devices have made the company well-known for its hardware designs. Can you share some of the advances Lenovo is bringing to the edge computing space? 

CF: We created a ThinkEdge portfolio using some of the craftsmanship from the ThinkPad team, who are talented in designing miniature, ruggedized devices. We also have engineering from the Motorola team that is contributing the wireless communication technologies. The data center team is providing high-performance, extremely reliable servers know-how.

The form factor is important, but we have also designed systems that are quiet because we know that they operate near users in stores, in schools and hospitals.

We also put a lot of effort into security because the [edge] is a less secure environment. The systems have lockable screws, a lockable bezel and cover panel for temporary protection, and if somebody opens up the server, the encryption keys are deleted. If somebody steals the server there’s a motion detector that will also detect unauthorized movement and will delete the encryption key.

Equipment is used in hot, cold, humid, and very dusty environments [so] we innovated with filtering technology. We have sensors that detect if the filters are getting filled with dust; it will notify the administrator to come and clean the filters, so the system doesn’t overheat.

EdgeIR: Highly distributed compute, storage and network resources have a lot of benefits for enterprises. How are enterprises dealing with the challenge of managing and servicing those resources?

CF: Lenovo delivers services in 180 markets around the world. We can help our customers during the physical installation of the device [and] the sensors or cameras or any other devices that would be associated with edge computing.

But more important, how do we effectively deploy this infrastructure at scale? This is perhaps one of the most important challenges. We have a tool called Lenovo Open Cloud Automation (LOC-A), which basically automates all the tasks…that are required to bring up a system in the data center or an edge.

EdgeIR: Enterprises are trying to deploy AI in their organizations, but many of those projects are failing. It’s hard to get these projects off the ground, especially for those starting from scratch. Can you tell us some examples of how edge computing is being deployed by Lenovo customers in 2022?

CF: Sonny’s Enterprises is based in the US and is a world leader in the carwash industry. When you visit a car wash, chances are that their technology is enabling that car wash system. They’re using Lenovo edge servers with AI technology to detect when one of the vehicles applies the brake inside of the carwash. That can obviously create an accident as the second vehicle is coming from the back. The [edge servers] can detect that and stop the other vehicle from moving forward.

We also have fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico who have deployed our ThinkEdge servers on their boats. When they are emptying the net inside on the boat, the cameras and the ThinkEdge servers are measuring the sizes of the fish and are notifying the fisherman if the fish are too small to be legally captured. You can imagine your fishing boat in the ocean doesn’t have network connectivity and you can’t rely on the cloud, but you need to process the data, where and when it’s created.

Our customers in agriculture, in healthcare, or in industrial settings are using our servers because they recognize they’re compact and offer the same performance that you would expect out of a cloud environment.

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