EdgeX Foundry: Less Than a Year Later


While the grand vision for 50 billion devices being connected by the year 2020 may not be panning out exactly at the magnitude forecast by some IoT industry observers, our world is certainly becoming more connected every day. 

Perhaps the “Real IoT” – in particularly the “Real Industry IoT” – is, if not a fine wine, a vision that needed to ferment a little longer, and like a refreshing fermented hard apple cider, ultimately will be less of one big bubble, and more of gazillions of little bubbles, or end-points naturally maturing at the very edge of the network. 

Hard apple cider, indeed – and sometimes just plain hard: that has been the “fog” at the edge which has turned out to be not as easy as it looked initially.

EdgeX Foundry – a Linux Foundation project announced around nine months ago at the Hannover Messe 2017 – is aiming to solve for complexity at the edge of IIoT – and is being led by an interesting fellow who knows a thing about fermentation, farming, and the inevitability of a productive harvest with hard work and a little patience. 
Philip desAutels not only has nearly thirty years of experience in cloud, mobile and IoT. The good doctor (desAutels has a PhD in Industrial Marketing from Luleå University of Technology) and his wife Michelle also run a fermentation farm in Springvale, Maine. They bought the farm in 2013, and today run three orchards, blueberry and asparagus fields, cultivate hay, and are building an off-grid passive house on Ferment Farm powered by the sun. 

Somehow, it feels just perfect that one of the world’s leading visionaries in massive industrial IoT technologies also leads a completely off-grid life, living off the land, and quoting John Muir: “And into the field I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”

Now, back to the EdgeX Foundry, where desAutel’s nearly three decades of experience in Cloud, Mobile and IoT – focusing on managing the interface connecting technology and society – has now manifested in building one of the coolest consortium’s I’ve ever run across, and I’ve been covering consortiums for over thirty years. 

EdgeX burst onto the scene with 50 members, ranging from tech giants like Dell, to small start-ups with three guys and a dog, and has since attracted new members of all sizes who are interested in instrumenting industries from energy and manufacturing to precision agriculture and mass transit to make them operate better. 

There is no IIoT if the ends of the connected universe as we know it are not registered to the Internet, cannot compute, communicate or otherwise click with systems, are not secured, and are not being considered properly in the larger context of “creating value.” 
The EdgeX Foundry tribe believes the IoT market is inherently heterogeneous, with many different tools and skills sets required to address myriad industry verticals and use cases, with widespread fragmentation in connectivity, variable preferences for coding and application environments among developers, and “no line of sight to consistent choices across Linux, Windows and embedded/RTOS variants” according to the organization’s latest presentation. 

With all that in mind, the Foundry also was started to solve for the hardest problems – at the edge. Why is the edge so darn hard? 
Hundreds of protocols
Mix of IP and non-IP connectivity
Widely distributed computing nodes, often in unsecure areas
Need for real-time response, regardless of backend connectivity 
OS fragmentation 

These challenges are not as present in the cloud, where more standardization is in place, where 100% of connectivity is entirely IP-based, APIs are in place and being used consistently, and computing is happening in secure data centers. 

IoT and IIoT at the edge is where the virtual world stops and the real world begins, and as we all know – real life can get messy sometimes. For example, sensors placed in production farm corn fields to measure earth, wind and fire (soil, environment, temperature) are often buried in the ground, and communicating with gateways which communicate to the cloud which send messages to humans when, for example, specific fields need irrigation. Somebody has to figure out how to pull all the pieces together to make this work, and as important – to make the economics work for the farmer. 

These sensors need to be priced reasonably, last 5-10 years, not run out of battery, and provide enough valuable information to create an ROI. The system needs to be unbreakable, to avoid taking down the entire farm due to a botnet attack. It’s enough to make one’s head spin, and has been enough over the last decade since IoT became “a thing” to slow down progress.

DesAutels and his team and the thriving EdgeX community are truly part of a Foundry, as they are hammering away every day at the hardest challenges to solve them through a common framework, through testbeds, through interop and integration cohorts, and more. 
DesAutels was no stranger to community building before he joined Linux and set up the Foundry working closely with Jason Shepherd from Dell (whose own path I wrote about earlier this year). DesAutels was previously a senior director at the AllSeen Alliance, a cross-industry collaboration to advance IoT through an open source software project called AllJoyn – which was developed to enable billions of interoperable devices, services and apps.

AllSeen provides open source code to any company, member or not, to get a head start on developing IoT products, solutions or services through the stack, from core messaging protocol independent of industry segment, to base services for onboarding and specific service frameworks (example, one for lighting, one for home appliances). 

There are more and more IoT alliances like AllSeen and EdgeX Foundry, many of whom we also cover including the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) which recently set up a liaison program with EdgeX. 

The coming together of the very mature IIC and the lively newcomer focused on the edge is, in addition to the growing number of new members joining the Foundry, more evidence that the industry as a whole is in a new “age of enlightenment” where the challenges are becoming clear enough to be solved for – together. 

So – when will all the individuals, teams, organizations, enterprises, governments, universities and more finally experience the grand harvest predicted by enthusiastic industry analysts over the last decade? 

My guess is 2018 will be a “bumper crop” year at last, but only because people like desAutels, and hundreds of other true leaders will have put in the time, energy and investment to actually get things to really work – at the edge, at the very edge of the IoT. 

There is a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, and while it is a really fun time to be in the world of technology and connectivity, the most joy comes from meeting really cool people whose vision for how things can work is interconnected with a mission and a plan to make things work. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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Contributing Writer

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