Podcast: Replacing the Server Closet in the Edge Computing Age. New Solutions Making Remote Offices and Satellite Locations Redundant, Compliant, and Secure

Emerson Smart Cabinet

How do you solve the infrastructure needs of the remote office or satellite location? Traditionally, it has been the (deservedly) much-maligned server closet, that non-redundant, unsecure, difficult-to-maintain, sure-to-go-wrong piece of the infrastructure mix. But demand for remote infrastructure is not going away.

As IT users demand fast, flawless interaction with their applications, edge computing has been a sensible answer. Smaller data center installations at the edge, closer to end users, are especially important for customer-facing applications such as content delivery and rich media.

This poses a problem as in-demand small data center installations at the edge are difficult to maintain from an IT perspective, and frequently lack any form of backup power options. Often they’re very insecure. In an age of increasing compliance demands, this is not an ideal combination for organizations needing to securely deploy IT at a satellite location, a remote site, or similar edge environment.

Emerson Network Power has introduced a turnkey solution for the edge with the Emerson SmartCabinet™ for Branches. In this podcast, Lisa East, senior product manager for Emerson, answers questions about the development of this turn-key solution for the growing needs of the edge.

The conversation covers the need for redundancy, the ability to service and maintain the infrastructure, and the criticality of security and compliance in these environments. Lisa shares details on Emerson’s selection of the access control technology components of the product engineered by E-LINE BY DIRAK, which enables security options, monitoring, and an audit trail that previously didn’t exist in these branch or edge environments.

You can listen to the conversation with Lisa in the player, and/or you can read the full transcript beneath the player.




Kevin O’Neill, Data Center Spotlight: This is Kevin O’Neill with Data Center Spotlight, and today we’re talking about edge data centers. Now, edge data center solutions are bringing infrastructure closer to the end users, especially when there’s content delivery involved. But there’s sometimes some issues with securing the edge data center applications, and we’re talking today with Lisa East, the senior product manager at Emerson Network Power about that. Lisa, thank you for joining us.

Lisa East, Emerson Network Power: Great to be with you, Kevin.

Data Center Spotlight:   Now Lisa, edge data center needs tend to be much smaller than more centralized data center solutions, and you recently introduced the Emerson SmartCabinet for branches to help deal with that situation. What can you tell us about this new product, the Emerson SmartCabinet for Branches?

Lisa East: Sure, so really our main focus with the SmartCabinet for Branches was all about helping customers deploy mini data centers in these remote offices and branches. So if you think about it, the SmartCabinet is really a factory-integrated IT system that’s going to deliver the critical capabilities that you need to deploy infrastructure at the edge very quickly. The systems are tailored to the customer’s application and they integrate a wide variety of capabilities from rack power to cooling, remote access, a wide variety of environmental sensors, depending upon the application.

Physical security and even surveillance. We have a wide variety of these cabinet foundations because what we’re finding out in these environments is they’re all different, there’s different challenges and so to be able to accommodate the varying environments, we have different sizes of cabinets, we’ve got wall mounts, we’ve got floor standing, we’ve got even NEMA 12 enclosures for those industrial applications where we need more of a sealed environment. So really at the end of the day, what you should think about when you hear SmartCabinet, is it really is a purpose-built platform that’s focused on providing simplification, standardization, and speed for customers deploying these IT systems at the edge. They show up IT-ready, they’re tailored, they’re configured to meet your needs, and they allow for that seamless integration into your existing infrastructure.

Data Center Spotlight:   Now Lisa, you referenced some of the unique challenges that are seen at the branch or the edge level when it comes to a data center. Now what are some of those unique challenges, and how did you address these in the creation of the Emerson SmartCabinet for Branches?

Lisa East: Great question. Distributed deployments have always been viewed as a challenge, and there’s actually three real reasons for that. First of all, there’s not the IT expertise at the edge, not in terms of resources or scale. So what we’ve done to be able to mitigate that is we offer and integrate a couple of core capabilities across our systems. First of all, there is power conditioning and backup. So by integrating in a true online double conversion UPS, equipment is protected from all of the power disturbances out there. It also offers battery backup, so that if there is utility power that is lost, that your system is always up and running, and this is very critical as they are delivering services to multiple customers. Another core capabilities that we’ve also integrated is remote access, with that out of band capability, and by integrating all of this, customers are able to manage their equipment, even if the network goes down. So it’s all about keeping these systems up, minimizing that downtime, so that you can always troubleshoot if an issue comes up, always be alerted if issues come up, and really what this means is, you don’t have to roll that truck, and that is a very expensive thing for customers to do.

The second thing is, there’s a lack of visibility and that creates anxiety because these remote offices are often considered dark nodes, since there’s nobody there present on site, they feel like there’s a lack of visibility. So what we’ve done is, all of our SmartCabinets support remote monitoring. It enables the customers to proactively manage their infrastructure, and receive those real-time alerts, for things like power failures, high temperature conditions, even when the cabinet doors open. Another thing that also we’ve done is we’ve really focused in on strengthening the security. We know that we’re having more and more discussions around what are the options around security, and so this has been a real focus for us going forward, not only is it the door ajar sensors, but moving up to some of the other capabilities in terms of electronic door locks and that at the rack surveillance.

Data Center Spotlight:   Lisa, it sounds like you’ve really overcoming some of the issues that people have when they say, I can’t have a server closet, our servers are just a small IT infrastructure application, even though we could really use it close by. It sounds like you’re really helping to overcome a lot of those challenges.

Lisa East: Absolutely, and again, what we want to do is not only provide a very simple way of deploying these systems out of the edge, but also a way of standardizing, so there’s a lot of complexity when you have to work cross-functionality with different processes, and different groups, and so forth. So if you can find that perfect system that you can actually roll out to multiple sites, and actually standardize on everything, it just helps all of your processes across the board, and reduces that complexity. So yes, we are very focused on that.

Data Center Spotlight:   Okay, great. Well, it sounds like you’ve got the power redundancy wired, which is always a big issue, and you referenced security. What security requirements are unique about the edge?

Lisa East: Well, I tell you what, after engaging multiple customers, it is a fact that every one is very focused on security and understanding what the options are. Protecting data is a top concern, pretty much across multiple verticals, including financial markets, healthcare, government, education, that’s just to name a few. But if you think about it, if you don’t have that IT expertise at the edge, then knowing who is around the equipment or who’s even attempting to access the rack becomes very, very critical. Customers are asking for card readers at a minimum, but in many cases, they’re even stepping to saying, oh, what do you have? I want two factor, multi-factor authentication, and I think wide-scale attention to that compliance is probably driving a lot of this, whether it’s PCI, or HIPAA, instituting those higher levels of physical security only strengthen a company’s positioning in this area.

So we’re seeing an increasing trend not only in the door lock area, but also with surveillance. It’s no longer good enough that a room has a surveillance camera. So having it such that the network camera is inside the rack at the front and the rear, such that motion triggers that recording so that they can see that image remotely is really also another trend that we’re seeing increasing. It basically gives them a real-time image of what’s going on in the remote offices.

Data Center Spotlight:   Well, the security is obviously going to be an issue at remote offices, and we’ve all been places where we’ve just seen a server sitting out there in the open, even in companies that otherwise seem to have their act together. So I know you’re looking to have this be a very robust solution from a security standpoint, in addition to the other elements that you speak of, and as a result, you folks reviewed a lot of different potential security solutions before partnering with E-LINE by DIRAK on this project. Other than my little story about seeing servers out in the open, what can you tell us about the security needs for the creation of the Emerson SmartCabinet?

Lisa East: So, another great question. I think from our perspective, we knew that when we first launched the SmartCabinet, we had basic security, but that no longer became good enough, and I know customers are out there, looking at different solutions, and trying to understand, what’s going to give them the most protection, no matter what the application? It’s no longer data centers and colo facilities, I mean, its edge applications as well.

And so what we wanted to do is, is we wanted to focus on providing customers with a targeted set of security solutions for the edge, because there’s so much out there, and just really trying to bring it down to some very targeted solutions that were easily digestible to customers, and we did this, and by looking at and partners with DIRAK we know that there’s customers that are on a budget, but they want all the bells and whistles. They want to be covered, so really looking at their portfolio; we decided that to really focus in on a two-tier solution for the edge applications.

We basically focused on a rack-level access solution, and a door-level access solution, depending on what their true needs were. Both of those solutions were ideal for locations that had fewer than four racks, and we know that in most distributed environments, that is a perfect characteristic. Each of the solutions offers the card reader and the keypad option, so that they get their however many factors of authentication they need, but basically if we were to drill down a little bit more into those solutions, the rack level solution that we chose to go with was really DIRAK’s MLR 5000 card reader system, paired with the MLR 1000 system, and this a system that we kind of considered our cost-effective solution, because it provided the access and control, but it only required one reader at the rack. If we wanted to get a little bit more with what we would consider more of a premium option, or what we call our maximum security solution, it was providing that door level access which featured a DIRAK MLR 5000 card reader on each of the doors.

So we really feel like that this is going to give customers options in terms of that protection that they’re looking at as they strengthen their physical security in these remote offices.

Data Center Spotlight:   Now I know that you guys looked at a number of different potential security solutions to implement into the SmartCabinet for Branches. What were the advantages that ELINE by DIRAK provided Emerson that led you to choose them as the security solution?

Lisa East: So you’re right, we looked at a multiple set of vendor solutions, and again, we took this very serious. We always look at different categories, and some of the categories that we really focused on were technology robustness, we looked at how easy the systems were to integrate and install across a suite of cabinet of foundations, because again, we support a multitude of cabinets. Ease of use, how easy would it be for our customers to use the solution? We were also interested in the software management suite capabilities, because this is where you’re configuring and setting up all of the features that you want.

We touched so many different customers and have a great sales force and partner channel that we know we’re going to be touching on opportunities that what we would consider brown-field opportunities. So while they’re expanding their size, they also want to make sure that back to that standardization thing, that they want to make sure that their whole entire fleet is basically retrofitted. So understanding what DIRAK’s capabilities were in the older cabinets, and being able to go back in and retrofit the existing set of cabinets was also important.

But I would say, most important, we wanted to look and see how DIRAK’s strategy and their solutions aligned with our SmartCabinet strategic vision and direction. And after putting all of these side by side, and looking across these vendors, DIRAK without a doubt scored the highest for their mechatronic lock solutions. We believe that DIRAK is the partner for today and in the future, and really because as part of the SmartCabinet charter, we always want to optimize our hardware. We want to make things simple for customers to use, and we really feel like that DIRAK was on the same page that we were on, and would give us the ability to optimize, while at the same time differentiating our SmartCabinet platform.

Data Center Spotlight:   Lisa, sounds like you folks really found a need to help people with their edge computing requirements, the power redundancy requirements, the security needs, everything that comes with the compliance needs for companies to have their infrastructure closer to their customers and to their offices. How can people learn more about the Emerson SmartCabinet for Branches?

Lisa East: So I would encourage everyone to go out to emersonnetworkpower.com and search for SmartCabinet. It would have all of the solutions that are in addition to SmartCabinet, our other modular solutions that are targeted at the edge.

Data Center Spotlight: Great and I know for people who are interested in the security side of things, and maybe they have some different and larger IT installations that need to be secured, they can visit elinebydirak.us, which is the security provider partner that Lisa talked about, and again, that’s elinebydirak.us. Lisa, congratulations on this new product, to you and everyone at Emerson, and I appreciate you joining us today to discuss it.

Lisa East: Great, thank you.