Can Stratus Make It On The Industrial Edge?

By Matt Kimball - February 22, 2018

Stratus launched its new ztC Edge system last week, as part of the company’s push into the industrial edge computing market. This is a move that makes sense, but it’s also a move that will put Stratus in competition with some very well-established edge players. It will additionally put Stratus in competition with Operation Technology (OT) providers and traditional datacenter players rushing to this space. That being said, I believe there are use cases where Stratus will fit. Building off those use cases and expanding into the broader edge market will take some marketing smarts and a strong commitment.

What is ztC Edge system? ztC Edge system is a custom form factor compute system designed for industrial edge environments. It’s thinner, shorter, lighter, and taller than your standard rack server, and its fanless design with heat fins makes it look like an industrial appliance. Make no mistakes, though, inside is a system that is well-suited for managing an assembly line, factory floor or wastewater treatment plant. Stratus ztC specifications. Stratus’s ztC Edge system seems to strike a balance between ruggedization and performance. These systems must be able to withstand extreme environments while supporting automated process control driven environments. This means the ztC Edge system is designed to operate in extreme temperatures and poor air quality. Furthermore, this server can be mounted to walls, tables and other surfaces, so it is built to withstand the vibration of heavy machinery. The thinking behind ztC Edge system Stratus seems to be bridging the gap between Operation Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT). Consider a manufacturing facility for a large corporation. The IT organization is tasked with driving absolute efficiency. However, there are typically few to no IT resources on hand to deploy and manage the technology at that facility. The ztC Edge system is designed to allow IT to better manage the automated process control that drives manufacturing. Stratus says the ztC Edge system was designed around three principles:
  • Simplicity: ztC Edge systems will reside in locations that will require non-technologists to deploy. Deliver a converged OT System designed for zero-touch remote operation.
  • Tailored solutions: The devices, systems and servers that drive edge computing are different depending on the industry. Provide tailored solutions that have enhanced systems management to reduce the burden on IT.
  • Maximum reliability: A ztC Edge system managing, say, a wastewater treatment process has to have the highest levels of reliability and security. Enable the Stratus partner ecosystem to deploy solutions on a fully protected edge stack.
In other words, design and deliver industrial edge systems that are simple to deploy, easy to manage, and fully fault tolerant. Looking at the specifications of the ztC Edge system, it looks like Stratus nailed it. One of the smarter design decisions Stratus made was virtualizing the ztC Edge system. This enables IT organizations to quickly deploy, configure, and manage the applications and data that drive their plants with ease and speed. Each ztC Edge system can support up to three virtual machines based on the KVM hypervisor. Target workloads ztC Edge system is a virtualized industrial control system (ICS) that was designed to support SCADA/HMI and historian services. If you’re not familiar with these terms, here’s a quick introduction. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is the process control architecture that drives many industrial environments. Consider a manufacturing plant where processes are highly interdependent. SCADA is the architecture (software, computers, programmable logic controllers, etc) that automate these processes and account for all of the interdependencies.
A historian is a service that collects data from all of the components on a SCADA network and logs to a database. So, when a valve in a wastewater treatment plant fails to open, the data collected and logged by the historian is critical to understanding process variability and required corrective actions.
How Stratus can win on the industrial edge
The hype around edge computing is big and growing bigger. Technology providers are repositioning product portfolios and ensuring “edge” and “cloud” somehow fit in every marketing brochure that gets posted to the company website. With that said, the edge is real. The industrial edge, for that matter, is perhaps even more real, considering the maturity of the ICS market. Plant and factory operators have been relying on some form of automated process control for years.
Stratus will face headwinds as it tries to establish itself. Technology providers that have developed systems to drive automated process control for, say, nuclear power plants have hardened solutions that are proven, if not necessarily the most advanced. Because of the regulatory nature of some of these industries, deploying new technologies and solutions isn’t always easy—even when the solution is technologically superior. For Stratus to find success in this space, they must do a few things:
    1. Choose a vertical (or two): Find those industries where ztC Edge can be easily adopted due to lack of regulatory burdens or entrenched incumbents. Establishing a leadership position in those initial target markets will allow for Stratus to challenge in tangential markets.
    2. Establish an edgy identity: Stratus is known as a pioneer in delivering fault tolerant servers and systems. It should be able to leverage this credibility to establish an identity in industrial edge computing. The key is telling the right message to the right audience—and, of course, delivering good technology.
    3. Manage the growth: After choosing a vertical, Stratus has to be careful to manage its growth within edge computing. It is easy to chase a deal and try to make a solution fit where it otherwise wouldn’t, for the sake of revenue or adding a logo to the customer list. It’s important to keep in mind though that brand equity can be destroyed much faster than it can be built.
Closing thoughts
Stratus is making a bold entrance to the industrial edge market with its launch of ztC Edge system, but it’s a move that seems to be well thought out and planned. From the product to positioning to future plans, Stratus is clearly planning to be on the edge for the long term. I am excited to write a follow-up piece in a few months to see how Stratus is executing against its plan.
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Matt Kimball is a Moor Insights & Strategy senior datacenter analyst covering servers and storage. Matt’s 25 plus years of real-world experience in high tech spans from hardware to software as a product manager, product marketer, engineer and enterprise IT practitioner.  This experience has led to a firm conviction that the success of an offering lies, of course, in a profitable, unique and targeted offering, but most importantly in the ability to position and communicate it effectively to the target audience.