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Imagine the possibilities: Exploring industry use cases for Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance

While many organizations are driving digital transformation by migrating to the cloud, there are some industries, geographies, and use cases that require a different approach to cloud modernization. Regulated industries such as healthcare, insurance, pharmaceutical, energy, telecommunication, and banking have stringent data residency and sovereignty requirements. Other industries need to meet local data processing requirements, while others require real-time data processing with sub-millisecond latencies, for example to detect defects on manufacturing lines. These use cases demand a combination of edge, on-premises and cloud services for their infrastructure.

With these requirements in mind, Google Cloud launched Google Distributed Cloud powered by Anthos to extend the power of Google Cloud infrastructure and services to the edge (or closer). The underlying infrastructure for this service comes in two variants: a 42U rack filled with compute, storage, and networking devices called Google Distributed Cloud Edge Rack and a 1U appliance called Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance.

In this blog post, we discuss the Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance and how manufacturing, retail, and automotive industry verticals can use it to address common use cases.

How the appliance works

But first, let’s talk about the Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance itself.

Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliances comprises two components: (1) Distributed Cloud Edge infrastructure and (2) the Distributed Cloud Edge service.

The Google Distributed Cloud Edge service runs on Google Cloud and serves as a control plane for the nodes and clusters running on your appliance. In order to perform remote management of the appliance and to collect metrics, the Distributed Cloud Edge service must be connected to Google Cloud at all times, allowing you to manage your workloads on the edge hardware through the Google Cloud Console. For customers who can’t be connected at all times for data residency or sovereignty reasons, we highly recommend that the appliance be connected to the cloud at least once a month to allow for needed security patches and updates.

Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliances come with built-in network ports that provide connectivity to the control plane via the internet, Cloud VPN, or Dedicated Interconnect, and to your on-prem network. Each Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance is homed to a specific Google Cloud region but it is designed to also use any public Google Cloud endpoint to communicate with the control plane in Google Cloud, allowing you to move these appliances between different geographic locations.

Figure 1 – Logical design of Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance

There are two NFS shares on each appliance; one is offline, meaning it does not transfer data to Google Cloud, and the other is online, meaning data saved to that share is synced to Cloud Storage on Google Cloud for further processing. The appliance supports Server Message Block (SMB) and Secure File Transfer Protocols (SFTP) for communication.

Each Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance runs Google Distributed Cloud Virtual, enabling you to build a single-node Kubernetes cluster with access to the underlying file system of the appliance. This allows you to build containerized applications on the underlying appliance hardware to address use cases in the following verticals.

Vertical use cases

Now that you understand how Google Cloud Edge Appliance is configured, let’s consider some of the industry use cases where it can provide unique value. 

Manufacturing 

In the manufacturing industry, quality control and safety is a crucial factor. Businesses need to ensure products are manufactured to the highest standards to remain competitive in their markets, to retain customers, and to keep factory workers safe. To do this, manufacturers need real-time data about the products being manufactured on the production lines, ensuring quality control and gaining a real-time view of where people are on the factory floor.

In manufacturing environments, Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance can be used to detect hazards or manufacturing defects in real-time. Figure 1 is a reference architecture for a hazard detection solution running off a Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance on a factory floor.

Figure 2 – Hazard detection architecture using Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance

In this architecture, cameras on the factory floor stream live video into the Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance. Depending on the number of cameras and appliances, cameras could be split or mapped to different appliances. This architecture makes it possible to initially transfer video data to Google Cloud using an online NFS share. Once in Google Cloud, you can use AutoML to train and build models that can be used as part of the hazard detection solution. 

With these trained models, the cameras can stream video data into the appliance using the real-time streaming protocol (RTSP). You can then use AutoML inference to analyze the real-time video streaming data. 

For example, in this reference architecture, if an individual comes too close to the fork lift, a function is triggered by the microservices running on the edge appliance that pushes a notification either to a messaging service, or to an enterprise resource planning tool. This alerts factory managers to factory floor hazards in real time so they can take corrective action.

You can also review messages and videos later on for preventive planning purposes, or push streamed videos to Cloud Storage for archive, to use the appliance’s storage space more efficiently.

Data transfers to Google Cloud can be done over Google Cloud DedicatedInterconnect, or VPN between the region and your site. This connectivity also allows you to send the appliance’s control-plane network traffic to the region.

You could also use the reference architecture in figure 2 for a product anomaly detection solution running off a Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance on a factory floor or manufacturing line. In this instance, machine learning models are trained to detect anomalies on finished products before final packaging. 

Retail 

In the retail industry, the Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance reference architecture in Figure 2 enables a number of transformative capabilities for retail operations, including:

contactless checkout

product scans

mobile-scan-bag

cashierless checkout

unattended retail shops

visual check-out monitoring

It does all this within a retailer’s facilities with the low latency and high throughput you need to process data locally, so you can obtain actionable insights from your data.

Or, you could use Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance at the edge to overhaul store management operations, for example, monitoring store occupancy, queue depth and wait times, detecting slips and falls and out-of-stock items, or monitoring inventory compliance.

Automotive 

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are becoming standard in modern automobiles. To successfully build and roll out continued improvements around ADAS, the automotive industry continues to run extensive tests on ADAS systems that are built into the vehicles they manufacture. Automotive companies can use Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance to modernize and transform how they collect data for the ADAS systems they’re developing. For example, test vehicles contain several different sensors that generate data, which can be quickly offloaded to an in-vehicle edge appliance. 

Then, within the appliance, you can deploy containerized workloads to transform sensor data, infer videos and images and detect events. This alleviates the need for operators to label all events and allows development teams to quickly gather insights from the tests.

If you want to focus on a subset of information, you can transfer specific data or the entire data payload into Transfer Appliances when vehicles return to the development center. All these systems, i.e., transfer appliances and edge appliances, work in tandem to reduce local system administration and operational costs through a cloud-based control plane. 

This approach allows you to deploy, track, monitor and configure services that are running in data centers or at edge locations from the cloud. From the factories, the data can be moved offline or online into Google Cloud where you can use different storage classes and processing capabilities to further process or store the data. You can also deploy newly trained models and business rules back to the edge appliances. In all this, data transfers between the cloud and the appliance are performed using end-to-end encryption, to give you control over your data.

Figure 3 – ADAS implementation with a Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance

The reference architecture in Figure 3 shows an ADAS implementation where Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance is being used to gather, process and transform data at the edge in the automotive industry. It could also be applied to data capture and processing use cases in manned and unmanned vehicles. Notice how the Distributed Edge Appliance extends to the cloud by sending data there, or using other cloud-based services.

We’re just getting started

These are just a few of the use cases where organizations in the manufacturing, retail and automotive industries are using Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliance with modern and containerized applications that are powered by Google Cloud. If you’re interested in bringing the power of Google Cloud to the edge using Google Distributed Cloud Edge Appliances to transform your business, reach out to us or any of our accredited partners.

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