Dell joins the Q for the IoT


In New York this week, Dell is moving close to the edge for its customers with AI.

Michael Dell – uptown boy?

Dell Technologies has announced a new Internet of Things (IoT) and AI strategy, complete with a dedicated IoT division, new IoT products, labs, and partner programmes.

But can this traditionally Midtown company, in market positioning terms, head Uptown in its new AI taxi?

Privately-owned Dell is investing $1 billion over the next three years in a programme it is branding ‘the IQ of Things’ (IQT), referring to the near-instant intelligence that will be embedded into IoT-enhanced cities, organizations, homes, and vehicles, and in everything from industrial robots to jet engines and wind turbines.

According to founder, chairman, and CEO Michael Dell:

With IQT, every node is additive to the collective intelligence of the whole.

He added that the amount of data at or near the edge will be an order of magnitude higher than in the cloud, with much of it unstructured.

But with the explosion of IoT devices comes an explosion of complexity, in both IT and organizational terms. This is why the company’s strategy now is to help customers “realize their digital future by safely navigating the complex and often fragmented IoT landscape”. This landscape Dell believes is coalescing around three hubs: the cloud, the edge, and the distributed core – aka the new on-premise for distributed organizations.

Speaker after speaker illustrated this point with a pendulum swinging back towards distributed systems, and away from centralized services, such as those in the cloud. And of course, Dell itself is something of a distributed and diversified business today, with Dell, EMC, VMware, Pivotal, RSA, and more, all onboard.

Close to the edge

In a world of increasing complexity in hybrid and cloud environments, the distributed core and the edge are where much real-time AI and IoT computing will take place, explained Dell, overcoming the latency of cloud-based services for time-critical AI decisions, such as a smart vehicle’s need to avoid a collision, or virtual/mixed reality’s need to layer data on top of the real world.

The real-time processing of information will enable data triage and machine-to-machine instant messaging, he said:

The edge will be everywhere and everything: that is the Internet of Things and, ultimately, it will be the Internet of Everything. And it’s happening fast. With the cost of a connected node approaching zero dollars, the number of them is exploding. We’ll soon have 100 billion connected devices, and then a trillion, and we will be awash in rich data. But, more importantly, we’ll have the ability to harness that data. I believe that AI and machine learning will be the jet engine of human progress, and data will be the fuel.

That’s a well-worn analogy, but with a new generation of data-rich companies using technology in sector-specific ways, the company’s strategy now is to create the distributed infrastructure to shift customers’ own innovations into a continuous cycle of renewal, said Dell, with the edge enabling real-time analytics on real events.

One example is Dell customer AeroFarms, a Smart Horticulture company that applies data science and AI to growing crops in vertical indoor farms. Speaking in New York, co-founder and CEO David Rosenberg claimed that his business is 130 times more efficient than traditional field farming, using 95 per cent less water and avoiding the one-third wastage of the traditional food sector, and the two-thirds wastage of most green crops.

In his keynote, Dell also talked up the “new era of human-machine partnership”, echoing the words of IBM’s Virginia Rometty and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella at Davos earlier this year, when they said that the new AI-enabled age won’t be about man vs. machine, but man plus machine: augmentation, not replacement. Dell added:

The IQT is the backbone of this future; it’s the infrastructure of the next industrial revolution.

New vision, new division

Dell’s new IoT Division will be led by VMware CTO Ray O’Farrell, who said:

Dell Technologies has long seen the opportunity within the rapidly growing world of IoT, given its rich history in the edge computing market. Our new IoT Division will leverage the strength across all of Dell Technologies family of businesses to ensure we deliver the right solution – in combination with our vast partner ecosystem – to meet customer needs and help them deploy integrated IoT systems with greater ease.

New developments and projects announced at the event include:

  • Dell EMC Project Nautilus: Software that enables the real-time processing and querying of data streams from IoT gateways.
  • Project Fire: a hyper-converged platform fromVMware, which includes simplified management, local computing, storage and IoT applications, such as real-time analytics.
  • RSA Project IRIS, which extends RSA’s security analytics capability out to the edge.
  • Project Worldwide Herd: a program for carrying out analytics on geographically dispersed data. This will be increasingly important when datasets cannot be moved because of data protection, sovereignty, and transfer concerns.

My take

Although neither Downtown-chic nor Uptown-refined, Dell’s Midtown New York event provided a refreshingly concise and focused take on the IoT, AI, and the new world of data-enabled businesses. It also revealed that what Dell has often lacked in originality it still makes up for in customer, rather than shareholder, value.

The event also revealed Dell to be more entrepreneurial today than merely acquisitive. Dell Technologies Capital, the company’s VC arm (ported over from EMC) is partnering with the new IoT division. Among an impressive portfolio of part-funded startups are: Edico Genome, creator of world’s first processor designed to analyse gene-sequencing data; FogHorn systems, a developer of edge-device intelligence software for the IoT; Graphcore, a developer of next-gen processors optimised for real-time AI; Moogsoft, a developer of applied AI for IT Ops (AIOps); and Zingbox, a developer of IoT security solutions.

Each of the start-ups’ own mini-presentations offered a glimpse into a fast-emerging, AI- and IoT-enabled world. But, it must be said, with the ongoing rush towards the technologies often ignoring the security dimension – Zingbox explained how smart healthcare systems are already being targeted in hospitals, with hackers able to change patients’ drug dosages remotely – the need for central management and simplification is now overwhelming.

Image credit - YouTube