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During the ongoing VDC report on the embedded cloud I have been hearing about many different interesting Machine to Machine (M2M) applications including several that distinctly feature products that we consider as Scalable Edge Nodes (SEN). During the next few weeks, I thought I would touch on a few of these interesting application cases and what the scalable edge node brings to the table.
First of all, in this initial posting, I thought I would speak to what a scalable edge node is. To start, lets work with what it is not. There are many network appliances such as routers, switches, firewalls, and web servers as well as storage devices. These are not scalable edge nodes but, a scalable edge node might have some of these functions incorporated inside them.
The next question to address is why are these SEN products needed? SEN products are often needed to support M2M applications particularly with respect to cloud services. This is not to say that machines are not already connected. They are connected but these connections are very isolated industrial networks that are optimized for productivity and safety. Any connectivity beyond the industrial automation and/or process control network can be problematic. The Stuxnet case underscores the exact nature of the problems.
This is one area where a SEN can enable the benefits of cloud connectivity and services while mitigating many of the risks. Lets take a look at this week's real world SEN example to underscore this benefit:
This week's M2M embedded cloud SEN enabled application is Tomra's Tomra-Trac product. Tomra is a manufacturer of Reverse Vending Machines (RVM). These are the machines you find at stores in places where bottle/can deposits are taken at the point of sale. The consumers return the empty cans and bottles in order to get the deposit back. These machines automate the process and shred/crush the returned units to minimize the storage space needed. For minimal security, these RVMs need to be connected to the store's network to allow the issuing, validation, and cancellation of the refund receipt's barcodes. As these RVM machines often sit in peripheral locations without a lot of oversight, there are some security risks to these connections to the store's network that can be mitigated by the use of SEN type products like Tomra-Trac.
The Tomra-Trac product helps solve this security problem and, at the same time, adds cloud based services. If a beverage manufacturer comes up with a new product, the RVMs can be securely updated frequently to recognize the new product's bar-code. In RVMs that sense product profiles in order to detect counterfeits, these parameters can be updated if manufacturers change their can/bottle sizes and/or shapes. The Tomra-Trac allows the store management to remotely track the status of the machines which can save them money by only assigning personnel to RVM tasks when needed.
Tomra can also provide better, more cost effective service by polling the RVMs for potential problems and minimize downtime by proactive or prompt reactive service. So there you have it, a SEN allowing safer/secure M2M connectivity and providing benefits to the store as well as Tomra.