It’s a crisis, really.
Digital Twins: the wonder of the digital age, where physical objects, systems or processes are modeled in a digital form. From an individual shopper’s behavior at Walmart to the intricate mechanical systems of General Electric turbofan aircraft engines, everything can be interacted within its digital form. The revenue potential, cost savings, and safety advantages are tremendous. But where are all these precious digital twins going to live?
Value of Digital Twins
Like the rest of us, a digital twin must produce business value to “earn its keep.” Imagine hundreds of Internet of Things (IoT) environmental sensors in a large office building generating terabytes of real world data every second (temperature, airflow, occupancy, humidity, solar radiation) to the building’s digital twin – a digital model of the building’s numerous complex interactions. The goal is to anticipate and optimize its environmental control systems, to improve comfort while lowering its daily CO2 footprint. All aspects of the building’s operations and environment are captured by the digital twin model; the twin itself lives comfortably in a cloud data center hundreds of miles away from the physical office building.
IoT sensor data comes in from the building and artificial intelligence applications run simulations against the “twin” to test outcomes for changes to a thermostat or the speed of a circulation fan to rebalance the environment in the building. In this relatively slow-moving process, changes can be affected in seconds without too much worry, and the effects of change will be measured in minutes or even hours. What is critical to understand in this case is that the building’s environmental systems do not require instantaneous response times to be effective. So, the digital twin and the artificially intelligent decision-making application can live hundreds of miles away where cloud resources are consolidated in a large, centralized data center or public cloud.
Exploring the Issue of Digital Twins and Where They Reside
But now imagine the same building with its hundreds of IoT safety and security sensors with a comprehensive model of smoke, heat, motion, data, electrical, and video systems that evaluate everything from fire danger, to a free-falling elevator. Every second and even millisecond matters. Where this digital twin and its intelligent decision-making application reside suddenly becomes a critical issue for responding to emergencies or threats. Many life-saving sensors, like smoke detectors or electrical circuit breakers, are based in hardware for reliable and rapid responses. But increasingly, the model of the digital twin and all the IoT sensor data is being asked to instantaneously make critical decisions to stop intrusions or damage before they even happen. This requires cloud computing resources to be close at hand, not hundreds of miles away.
Finally, we get down to the housing shortage for our digital twins. According to Gartner, “The complexity of digital twins will vary based on the use case, the vertical industry and the business objective.” Regardless of complexity, the issue of proximity must be carefully considered – how will digital systems like IoT sensors, digital twins and artificial intelligence be involved in real-time decision making for the organization. Access to public cloud is nearly ubiquitous, but business outcomes in many industries are driven by real events in real time. That means the cloud computing resources to host digital twins and the associated intelligence must be local.
And that local cloud is a new phenomenon known as Edge Cloud – the exciting answer to the housing crisis threatening digital twins… just in time.
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