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언박싱: 어드밴텍 올인원 엣지 인텔리전스 시스템 EI-52

6-16-2021

No matter what kind of IoT systems you are building, it is inevitable to have three must-have elements: sensor node (Note 1), gateway, and cloud. The gateway is the transition system between sensor nodes and the cloud and is responsible for transmitting information and commands bidirectionally. However, due to the limitations of transmitting distance, the industry has continuously strengthened gateway’s functionalities in recent years to share partial workloads of the cloud, which is commonly known as edge computing nowadays.

Many different types of devices can be considered as gateways in different IoT systems. For example, in a home appliance IoT application, a smart speaker may play the role of a gateway. Each node is connected to the speaker by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and the speaker transmits information and commands. Or in an IoT application for the public, cell towers may act as gateways, and nodes are connected to them by 4G LTE or 5G, and information and commands are transmitted by cell towers. Similarly, in industrial IoT (IIoT) applications, gateways are also needed, and they are usually industrial computers (IPC).

Caption: EI-52 Edge Computer

Even in IIoT applications, there are multiple implementations for gateways. Some cases simply use Raspberry Pi single-board computers as gateways, but some use server rooms. However, many implementations can only carry out basic functionalities and lack of comprehensive supporting software and hardware. I was fortunate to receive Advantech EI-52 (EI-52-S6A1) Edge Intelligence System a few days ago. I unboxed, tested the system and found that it was quite easy to use and could be a good illustration for introducing key points and characteristics that should be considered when setting up gateways for IIoT applications. 

Industrial Grade Mechanism Appeals to 3 Applications

Applications of IPCs are very different from ordinary home and office use computers. They may be installed next to high-temperature boilers or in areas with high chance of collisions in visitor hotspot zones. Therefore, the mechanical design of IPCs need to consider more about reliability.  The mechanical of EI-52 is not only designed for extreme environments, but also has industrial grade robustness and can support from -10 to 50 °C operating temperature. Hence, there are three major applications for EI-52: first, indoor installation, such as shops, malls and department stores.; second, production line automation in factory working environments (non-extreme); third, self-service kiosk machines, such as 7-ELEVEN ibon and FamilyMart FamiPort. 

Mainstream Windows OS with Long-term Service Channel

I have investigated the server market in the past and noticed that tower servers, similar to desktop computers, have always been widely used in the retail industry. Even with the Linux OS’ growing market share, Windows OS is still the mainstream in the retail industry, because store managers or clerks are more familiar with the OS. They can change settings or do basic trouble shooting under Windows OS.    Furthermore, EI-52 uses Windows 10 Enterprise Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC), which not only offers operating system familiarity, but also guarantees long-term after-sale services.

Caption: EI-52 uses Windows 10 Enterprise Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC)

EdgeX Foundry with Strong Technology Ecosystem

In practice, gateways need to use various communication technologies to connect to various sensor nodes and use various communication protocols to communicate with the cloud. Therefore, gateways must be able to run different communication modules and have different drivers accordingly, as well as diverse utility and application programs. If every software provider develops their own programs, it will only cause confusion.

Therefore, the Linux Foundation launched EdgeX Foundry in 2017, hoping to establish an open-source platform for gateways, reduce the chances of redeveloping gateway software, and improve software reusability. EI-52 also adopts EdgeX Foundry, but since Linux is the mainstream for using EdgeX Foundry, EI-52 uses Docker container technology to execute EdgeX Foundry.


Due to the major upgrade with Go Lang of EdgeX Foundry in 2018, the security infrastructure was enhanced and computing resource requirements were lowered. In addition, it uses Docker instead of Hypervisor (VM, virtual machine), which is more lightweight and retains plenty of hardware resources for other use and future expansion.

In terms of lightweight and lower resource requirement, the old version EdgeX including container require 519 MB storage, but the new version only needs 68 MB. When simulating operation of 100 nodes, the old version requires 1302 MB RAM previously, but only 27 MB needed for the new version. Apart from the resource saving, the initialization of gateway service program is faster, shortening from about 35 seconds for each service to less than one second. I actually checked the storage space used by all the pre-installed software of the EI-52. It was only about 38 GB, including the operating system, EdgeX Foundry and all related software programs.

EdgeX Foundry has a strong technology ecosystem due to the support of a variety of hardware and software vendors. Its offerings include various built-in communication protocols, drivers for multiple sensor nodes (such as cameras and barcode readers) and sample code. The related documentation and historical issues and discussion records are also very comprehensive and rich. EdgeX Foundry really simplifies and speeds up the development of IIoT applications.

EdgeX Foundry Console dashboard

WISE-DeviceOn, the Time-saving Backend Management Software 

In terms of operation, EI-52 uses EdgeX Foundry. In addition to the operation of the gateway, EdgeX Foundry also has corresponding microservices for managing nodes. However, not only the nodes but also the gateway needs to be managed. So, Advantech developed a solution for device management, WISE-DeviceOn.

WISE-DeviceOn is divided into two parts, one is WISE-Agent, which is installed on the device to be managed (here refers to EI-52), and the other is the WISE-DeviceOn cloud service established and operated by Advantech, commonly known as the backend. WISE-Agent is responsible for collecting the information of the managed device and transmitting it to the backend, and at the same time, receiving commands from the cloud for controlling the device.

Through the backend, the administrator can check the real-time status of many gateways (EI-52) on field, such as network connection status and abnormal events. If there are abnormal events, the further diagnosis can be carried out remotely. On the other hand, the device data can be further analyzed for predictive maintenance. 

 The administrator can also update the firmware of all gateways (EI-52) over the air and remotely control power switch and configure notification conditions. More importantly, WISE-DeviceOn allows grouping of multiple gateways (device group), so that batch operations can be performed and save tremendous time and effort. 

Caption: Advantech WISE-DeviceOn dashboard

Public Cloud Support

After EI-52 collects the information on field, it needs to upload it to the cloud. In theory, any cloud service can be used if the data format and protocol are correctly mapping to the cloud service standard.  However, most people choose well-known cloud services, such as Microsoft Azure, and use services focusing on IoT applications, such as Azure IoT Hub.

As mentioned above, the cloud is an indispensable part of the overall IoT operation. Through data aggregation at the cloud, the administrator can be aware of the overall changes of field devices, to discover the subtle patterns from analysis of collected data, and make follow-up predictions and responses.

Caption: EI-52 connected to Microsoft Azure IoT Hub

Two Optional Functions: Inference Acceleration and Backup

EI-52 echoes edge computing and can perform AI inference locally. It shares inference workloads of the cloud, which makes it more timely and power-saving, and reduces data transmission cost (Public cloud services are usually charged by data usage amount).

In this regard, the 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5/i3/Celeron processor in EI-52 has built-in AVX-512 VNNI instruction set, which can accelerate INT8 inference (the benchmark of AI inference in recent years) by utilizing hardware circuits. Besides, you can also choose to add Advantech's VEGA-330 AI module in EI-52, which is in mini PCIes form factor and includes 2 Intel® Movidius™ Myriad™ X VPU, and can speed up the inference of video streams.

Apart from the Edge AI module, the EI-52 can also be equipped with Advantech’s 5G and Wi-Fi modules to meet various communication requirements for the cloud and sensors. The modules have all been tested for compatibility, performance and thermal to ensure stable operation.

Furthermore, gateways require higher standard on information security measures than sensor nodes and the cloud, because cloud servers are mostly located in data centers with strict monitor and several layers of protection implemented, whereas gateways and sensor nodes are mostly placed in open environments and public spaces, which makes it difficult to have full protection. Gateways can be hacked not only through the internet, but also by using physical methods.

When a single sensor is attacked, quite often, it only creates a small local damage, and workloads can be easily covered by neighboring nodes. But, once a gateway is attacked, the impact extends to the entire area and cannot be overlooked.

Therefore, optional anti-virus and data back-up and recovery software utilities can be installed in EI-52. Advantech has cooperated with software providers to test and verify that McAfee anti-virus software and Acronis data back-up and recovery software can be used to provide EI-52 with protection and security measures.

In addition to software utilities, EI-52 also has a hardware chip (Infineon SLB9670XQ2.0) to provide TPM 2.0 security-related functions to avoid data tampering, and at the same time save data in a scattered manner, so that even if the hacker removes the entire EI-52, the data inside the it cannot be correctly decoded without the verification key. 

Caption: ei-52 solution diagram

Conclusions

From the above unboxing experience, we can conclude that although general simple and basic gateway solutions provide enough functionalities to get by, for long-term stable and reliable operation, a comprehensive edge intelligence solution is a must. Such solution should have robust mechanical design, good after-sale services, a strong software developer ecosystem, remote diagnosis/firmware update/batch operation, inference acceleration and data security and protection. EI-52 focuses on these key points and expects to play a proactive role in the IIoT field.


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