Edge Goes Extreme: Bringing Rugged Computing Power to the Most Remote Environments


Rugged edge computing lets organizations extend and expand the possibilities of advanced data analytics to remote corners of the earth and beyond.

The edge is everywhere – well, almost – and that’s not an exaggeration. About half the people in the world own a smartphone, i.e., an edge computing device, and a survey found 35% of an average organization’s data is driven by edge workloads. The “almost” part refers to the rugged edge. Those are extreme environments like the ocean, desert, and rainforest, which are some of the most remote locations where traditional, centralized infrastructure doesn’t cut it or doesn’t exist yet.

Big data and applications, advancements in AI, machine learning, IoT, and IIoT devices are now pushing the edge further (and farther), leading to innovative new use cases that require a different type of computing framework. As the data perimeter has changed and data has become more complex and voluminous, infrastructure must now be closer to where it’s being generated to eliminate latency. That’s what the rugged edge brings.

What makes the edge edgier?

A traditional data center is provisioned with IT resources, staff, space, and carefully controlled power and cooling considerations. The edge, by contrast, introduces connectivity, environmental, and security factors. Rugged edge computing devices work in extreme environments where there are no cloud instances and enable users to deploy remote data capture and analytics.

Processing data closer to where it’s generated reduces the latency associated with sending data from a remote location to the core for processing. Remote processing reduces the amount of traffic on network backbones, delivers on-site analytics, and enables faster decision making, all while withstanding harsh conditions.

Rugged equipment needs to be tough enough to withstand shock and vibration when transported aboard a moving vehicle or aircraft, let alone once it’s set in the environment itself, such as a military outpost in the middle of the desert. The system has to handle turbulence, humidity, and intense temperatures. Even air pressure differences when changing altitude can impact a device. Ingress protection against water, dust, and debris is also critical to ensure a unit won’t be damaged.

Take rugged edge servers. They are purpose-built for extreme conditions and often meet military specification (MIL_SPEC) standards, which can include security features with a cryptographic module and a tamper-evident enclosure. In addition to protecting against tampering or otherwise getting to the data, protection against external electromagnetic interference (EMI) events, either natural or malicious, is critical. Internal EMI screening is also important to reduce the likelihood of detection.

See also: Edge Now Has More Than 1/3 of All Data

The rugged edge – deep in action

Edge servers provide mobility, analytics, and high-performance computing, bringing the data, processing, and user (whether people or things) closer together for real-time decision making and value. Otherwise, when data is captured at the extreme edge, sending it back to the cloud could be painfully slow or prohibitively expensive.

For remote locations, data processing was virtually impossible without the rugged edge. In some cases, it would literally be faster to fly the information on a helicopter than to transfer huge data sets back to the grid. Of course, this isn’t practical.

The oil and gas industry is one such example. Research shows that “A single oil rig can generate over a terabyte of data each day — the equivalent of 130,000 digital photos.” The report goes on to say that less than 1% usually gets turned into insights because of the limits of the location. “Assuming the data is sent [back to a traditional data center] via satellite link, it can take up to twelve days for a single day’s worth of data to be transmitted from the oil rig.” The time-lapse renders the data irrelevant. Rugged edge computing solves this problem.

For scientists like those on the Marcus G. Langseth, a 3,834-ton research vessel bigger than an NHL hockey rink, the timing was everything. The ship houses 12 laboratory spaces and is outfitted with some of the most advanced scientific equipment in the world. In July 2022, a 20-person crew, 20 scientists from Oregon State University, and a one-of-a-kind underwater imaging device (named ISIIS) set sail to study the ocean’s trophic web.

The goal was to capture real-time images (dynamic ocean currents means that things change in an instant) of marine plankton — trillions of tiny organisms that drift through the ocean, carried and dispersed by tides and currents, with some of the plankton organisms producing vast amounts of oxygen — more than half of what we breathe. Then the images were also classified in real-time into known species based on a deep learning pipeline. This is where the power of the Western Digital edge server comes in.

Over a day’s recording, the ship crossed about 100 miles, generating a 100-mile-long image. The ISIIS’ cameras collected 10GB of video every minute, 140 hours of high-resolution video in total. An edge server, purpose-built for extreme conditions, was the only way to store and process what, in this case, was $1 million worth of data.

However, capturing and processing terabytes of data at sea wasn’t the only issue. The technology also enabled the generation of insights through databasing and visualization. The rugged equipment allowed the scientists to discover, test and evaluate at previously unattainable speeds. All this goes towards enabling the next level of adaptive sampling in oceanography that can take into account live species distributions, ultimately leading to a better understanding of our oceans.

One of the scientists on board said, “This is one of the best projects. It leverages all of the artificial intelligence technologies out there, pushes every technology to its limit, and, in the end, I get to help solve climate change.”

See also: Edge Computing Spend To Reach $317 Billion by 2026

Unlimited potential

The growth in data creation at the edge and the opportunities to extract value from that data is connecting people and technology like never before — and in some of the most extreme locations. Organizations are extending and expanding the possibilities of advanced data analytics to remote corners of the earth and beyond.

From oil rigs to space, to ocean exploration and military deployments, these are just a few examples. The applications for the rugged edge are limited only by the imagination.

John Collins

About John Collins

John Collins is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Western Digital Corporation. He is a seasoned leader with a strong background in storage, memory technology, cloud, computing, video/graphics, networks, and mobility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *