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VMware is betting on IoT technology and edge computing as the way of the future. VMware's Pulse IoT could lead this market, but the company is facing competition from other vendors, including AWS.
Predictions that edge computing might supersede the cloud grab attention, but the reality is that many servers handle distributed data outside of data centers. These edge servers are the first point of analysis for data gathered from sensors and smart devices, and IT administrators must remotely manage, monitor and maintain them.
What are edge and IoT?
IoT refers to data-generating devices attached to things rather than people. A wind turbine might generate more data from its sensors than all of the cat pictures you see on your smartphone in a day. This data drives immediate action, such as turning the turbine toward the wind or feathering the turbines when the wind is too strong. Such immediate action requires an edge server in the turbine to do the processing.
Analyzing the sensor data and identifying what needs further analysis are other edge tasks. For example, wind speed and direction measurements across the wind farm can help plan an expansion. Long-term trending information requires the aggregation of data from multiple edge servers. Each edge server forwards the results of its own analysis to an on-premises or cloud location.
Non-computer machines generating data make up the internet of things. Edge processing immediately processes that data close to its location.
What is VMware Pulse IoT?
VMware is taking advantage of a significant opportunity to help enterprise IT organizations manage thousands of edge servers. AirWatch can move from managing mobile devices to managing edge servers with relatively little change. Similarly, vRealize Automation already deploys and configures large populations of VMs; it isn't a massive leap from that to large populations of edge servers.
VMware Pulse IoT aims to simplify device management outside of corporate or cloud data centers that require consistent configurations. These edge devices are embedded in other machines, such as autonomous cars, medical instruments and even smart surveillance cameras watching for vandals in the center of a city. With so many devices in such inconvenient locations, Pulse IoT must deliver robust remote management and simple deployments.
Security is a central element of VMware Pulse IoT; devices likely live on exposed and untrusted networks that are susceptible to all kinds of attacks from the internet, as well as physical attacks.
What's new in VMware Pulse IoT 2.0?
VMware announced the second release of Pulse IoT at VMworld 2018 U.S. Version 2.0 adds more features to manage a large number of IoT devices. Changes include enhancements to existing features, better options for troubleshooting, and richer notifications and alerts for operations teams. Operations teams also have more control over updates delivered to IoT devices, as well as improved device deployment methodologies requiring less effort on each device.
VMware makes both on-premises deployment and SaaS delivery for Pulse IoT available -- another significant change. SaaS works well for scalable device management, while highly regulated environments that don't permit multi-tenancy might require on-premises deployments.
In addition, version 2.0 includes enhanced security, with role-based access control and multi-tenancy to support SaaS deployments.
What about ESXi on ARM?
VMware also demonstrated the ESXi hypervisor running on an ARM CPU at VMworld.
Mimi Spier, vice president of IoT at VMware, explained that ESXi on ARM is expected to be an edge product. Most likely, the device -- car, turbine and camera -- manufacturers will use powerful ARM-based computers with ESXi to run edge computing elements. ARM CPUs use less power than Intel CPUs, so ARM is the first choice for locations where space, heat and power management is essential.
Complex devices often have many small ARM CPUs, each with a single function. A lower number of more powerful ARM CPUs runs ESXi and delivers individual functions to VMs.
VMware understands the need to run VMs at scale. They used this knowledge to enhance Pulse IoT so it can manage the physical ESXi on ARM machines, as well as the VMs that deliver applications at the edge.
Edge and IoT are a big opportunity
VMware is betting that many edge and IoT customers want a simple way to manage all the elements at scale. They are aiming to grab as much of the market as possible, as IoT and edge computing are still new, but VMware won't go unchallenged. AWS and other vendors offer IoT competition, and Amazon doesn't like to share markets. If the market becomes as large as predicted, there might be room for multiple vendors. Time will tell whether VMware's bet pays off. If it does, VMware's name could become as synonymous with IoT as it is with virtualization.