EdgeX Foundry is a free open-source alternative IoT-platform, which has seen wild success in the last two years. Indeed within 6 months the platform has grown its adoption from 1 million to 5 million instances being used in early 2020. By the end of August 2020, EdgeX Foundry hit more than 7 million container downloads, is supported and used by many of the relevant IoT players, e.g. Dell, ubuntu, hp. The platform plans to release EdgeX 2.0 (called “EdgeX Ireland”) in the spring of 2021 with an extensive set of new features.
Two years ago, when EdgeX was still a rather unknown open source initiative, we spoke to the initiators, Michael Hall, Brett Preston (the Linux foundation) and Jim White (Dell), about their ideas and vision of the future. While the platform has since grown a lot, it still endorses these original ideas and the spirit of openness. Read here how it all started:
The Linux Foundation for EdgeX Foundry
The Linux Foundation for EdgeX Foundry
Brett is Developer Advocate and Community Manager at The Linux Foundation for EdgeX Foundry.
Michael: EdgeX Foundry is a vendor neutral open source platform containing a collection of micro services that take care of different aspects of what you’re going to need to have an edge computing platform. If you’re making IoT devices, you don’t want to reinvent that layer of the stack. Having that common platform for IoT is something that is going to benefit everybody. The Linux Foundation is a neutral umbrella over EdgeX. Inside the project are all the member companies who are actually funding the development, putting developers and marketing resources in, to make it an actual, usable product for everybody. That’s the model of the project and the actual code itself. The main goal of EdgeX is processing and transporting data between IoT devices and sensors and things in the cloud and on the backend. The focus is on being able to respond locally as much as you can, so that you don’t have the latency of going on the cloud and back. And also, being able to continue working, if you loose that connection.
Jim: EdgeX is a an open source platform containing a collection of micro services that take care of different aspects of what you’re gonna have to do to have an edge computing platform. Any of those are semi-dependent: You can replace anything you need to replace. For the status of the project: We just had a year of fast pace growth and we have rewritten everything in Go, so all of our processes are a lot smaller and more efficient now.
Jim: We currently use Mongo DB as the persistence engine although we could support almost any kind of persistence store at the edge as long as it was small enough. We also have used SQLite in the past for a couple of customers. However, Mongo DB is the largest element in our portfolio of services. There are a couple of reasons why we are probably going to offer an alternative to Mongo with our next big release in spring 2019: Footprint, licensing, and lack of support for ARM32.
Michael: As we are a collection of microservices, you can always swap out individual pieces depending on what your needs are.
Jim: EdgeX is an Apache 2 license open source project, so we prefer Apache 2 level or at least a compatible license, because we want to be very business friendly. We want people to take the application and use it in all sort of settings, including actually embeddeding it in gateways. We also want to be very decoupled at discrete points.
For example, if I’m a company like Dell and I use EdgeX. If some of my customers have an absolute demand that a certain database be at the heart, then I want to be able to choose the database, depending upon the customers, the use cases, and the environment that they find themselves in. EdgeX is all about the flexibility. So, for this example, we offer what we call a reference implementation database. Customers or users could take EdgeX and replace elements with their own technology, which may not be open source even.
Jim: There are over 70 companies now that are part of the EdgeX community and each group is using it differently. There are some that are serving EdgeX as the Red Hat model: they are providing distribution, services and support behind EdgeX. A company like mine, Dell, we’re trying to find a platform that actually goes on our gateway. So we’re going to build a commercial version of EdgeX for our own platform. There will be pieces that we will replace based on better performing mechanism to some of our cloud based products. Then you have other groups out there that are proving particular services for EdgeX, for example edge analytics. There are lots of different service capabilities where we see potential replacements. Then there are companies like Samsung that uses EdgeX in their factory floor to help run their automation. So, they are users, but they also want to make sure EdgeX meets their needs. Our community is made of snowflakes, they are all very special *laughs* – common goals but different use cases for almost everybody that is part of the organization.
Vivien: That sounds really cool. In your opinion, moving the data to the edge, what is the edge, where do you see the data ending up, for example more on the sensor level or gateway level?
Jim: I would say that it really isn’t that one or the other is more important. You’re gonna have situations, as we know from a Dell perspective, where what we call a brownfield device (e.g. a 1979 modbus engine) needs a gateway, because it doesn’t have the ability to communicate into any kind network otherwise. So there has to be a gateway that provides that first level of compute. There are other things that are evolving in the industry: think of say windmill generators, where there is lots of capability right there at the device level, there is a lot of compute built right into those systems. So things will run at that level, and then you have everything in between. Even something like BLE or Zigbee type of environments where there is wifi and ability to connect directly to a network. Typically, we’re finding organizations are reluctant to allow those kind of things to connect into their major networks without some security, apparatus and analytics to see what’s going on, so as not to create problems in their larger networks. So even there, a gateway may be necessary, not because of hardwiring or physical connections, but because you want some insurances in place at the edge before that data leaks on up to your enterprise.
Jim: *laughs* Now you are going to make me say some things in front of Brett and Michael as members of the Linux foundation… There is a quote by Winston Churchill that talks about democracy, saying it’s the worst form of government except all others. I kind of feel the same way about open source development. It’s the worst way to build our product except for all others. Because it does take time. It’s a community effort and anything done by a community automatically seeks a ground where it’s going to be the best and brightest product. So you get the best input from everybody, but it takes time. It’s easier for say something like Dell to go marching off and build a software solution that they think is the best. It will get there faster but it’s not necessarily going to get there in a way that the world and communities accept more easily. So anything built by many hands is going to take a little bit more time and a little bit more process. But it ends up getting a lot better results I think in the end.
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