Understanding Edge technology complexities

May 16, 2024 | Written by: Sensia

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Insights from Mario Torre, Digital Architect, Sensia

We’re in the era of high-performance intelligent electronic devices – known as the Edge. These ready-to-be-installed high-tech devices perform advanced and sophisticated autonomous operations. They are very much the must-have technology of today. Availability is ripe and part of a standard offering from many manufacturers and suppliers.

For the Oil & Gas industry, Edge computing can provide real-time surveillance, control, automation, complex analytics, and autonomy right at the wellbore, alongside production surface equipment, across long hydrocarbon pipelines, and in carbon capture injection wells, among other uses.

The choice is immense. Major computer manufacturers are even offering advanced field computers as hardware ready to be programmed and installed in the field.

Given this, a question arises: How does the customer select the appropriate Edge device that best aligns with their requirements, budget, and long-term vision?

Making the choice clearer

Considering the vast offering, this can be quite a daunting task. To make the selection process easier for you, here are a set of capabilities and features that an Edge device should comply with to be successful:

+ An Edge device is much more than just hardware
An Edge device must offer a symbiotic combination of hardware and software, closely interlaced in providing a functional, safe, and robust solution. Getting bare metal hardware, selecting an operating system, and then building applications from there may be a long, tortuous, and expensive process that requires resources and time.

+ Hardware toughness is essential
Make sure that any Edge hardware can operate in harsh environments and on a wide operating range.

+ Classic process controls, advanced analytics, and autonomy – in one single device
Most Edge offerings are not designed to deal with real-time, deterministic control. Often, they rely on a separate PLC alongside the Edge device. For the best performance, you should look for a device that provides PLC IEC 61131 programming capabilities for fine-grained real-time surveillance and control, combined with state-of-the-art analytical applications, and built using high-level languages integrated with the PLC engine. Also, the real-time engine must be physically and logically detached from advanced applications, so if one component fails, the other one continues to operate uninterrupted.

+ On board I/O
It must include I/O points: discrete, analog and control, including a few high-frequency scan rate I/O, suited for specific advanced applications.

+ Hardware expandability
Expandability is key. That includes external I/O (through remote I/O modules, and more data storage, using SD cards, for example.

+ Software immutability
It must guarantee that critical software components (operating systems, drivers, libraries, applications) are protected and cannot be tampered with or modified.

+ Software modularity
Software architecture should be highly modular, comprised of loosely coupled modules or containers that can be independently replaced or updated.

+ Very high processing capacity – compared with its size
Any Edge device must provide enough computing power to run several advanced applications. It should be built around major programming frameworks and languages and accept add-on hardware co-processor modules, like GPUs and TPUs.

+ Seamless connectivity
Critical to usability, it will include several serial and network ports and wireless communication capabilities like Cellular (LTE/5G), wi-fi, and wireless I/O (LoRa, WirelessHART, others). Ideally, this kind of connectivity will be readily available to any application running on the Edge device.

+ Major communication protocols readily available
De facto standard protocols (both server and client) must be available, like Modbus, OPC/UA, and Ethernet/IP.

+ Embedded user visualization capabilities
For plug-in-and-play capability, a quality Edge device will be user interface ready in case local visualization is required using inexpensive screen hardware.

+ Remote management is essential
Edge devices securely configured from a remote site will give ultimate flexibility – including edge management, updates, patches, or new containerized applications – without interfering with ongoing edge operations.

+ Super cyber secure
For remote management, and in general, data security is paramount. Any operation inside the device or in any interaction with external systems must adhere to all principal cybersecurity standards and fully adopt Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA).

+ Coded by you
Finally, building and deploying your applications without intervention or effort from equipment suppliers will give you total flexibility. A Software Development Kit (SDK) means anyone can build applications for deployment. Make sure developers can use the full extent of existing advanced languages, software frameworks, and complex libraries, allowing them to create new programs that can run in real-time along with the rest of the Edge components.

Your needs are as unique as your operation

This list is not exhaustive – but we’ve covered many essential considerations. The takeaway is flexibility. With each operation comes nuanced demands, and you will need an Edge controller that works with you.

We appreciate there is a lot to think about. Getting it right will optimize performance, reliability, and security – now and long into the future. While the market offers a wide range of options, choosing a device that meets the capabilities and features we’ve discussed will provide a valuable platform for moving your operation to the next level.
 

To discover our Edge capabilities, visit our QRATE HCC2 page.

For more information please contact us

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