A Deep Dive into Edge+Automation – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | April 11, 2022

On this special episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I am joined by Dafné Mendoza a Principal Technical Marketing Manager for Ansible Automation Platform for Red Hat, for a conversation around one of our favorite topics: Edge+Automation. This conversation is the first in a four-part series with Red Hat.

In our conversation we discussed the following:

  • The benefits to organizations when implementing automation at the edge strategies
  • A deep dive into real world use cases
  • An exploration into the retail space and what’s happening there
  • An overview of Automation mesh – a new feature of the platform

It was a great conversation and one you don’t want to miss. Interested in learning more about edge+automation? Be sure to read our latest research brief A Deep Dive into Edge+Automation. Want to learn more about what Red Hat and what they are doing with open source edge computing? Be sure to read our latest report — The Value of Open Source for Modern Edge Computing — done in collaboration with Red Hat.

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Daniel Newman: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another edition of the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m your host, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst, Founding Partner at Futurum Research. I’m excited about this multi-part series that we’re doing with Red Hat, where we’re going to be talking about the edge. We’re going to be talking about edge and automation, edge and scalability, edge and security, and edge topologies.

Today’s show, we will be focusing on edge and automation. And I have Dafné Mendoza of Red Hat joining me here on the show. Dafné, welcome to Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series.

Dafné Mendoza: Hello, and thanks for having me.

Daniel Newman: It’s great to have you. I always love bringing guests on. Having people come to the show to bring new perspective and insights on really important topics, especially for companies that are trying to make most out of the opportunities with technology, which is exactly what’s going on. Of course, as the edge is heating up, we’ve been talking about it for years, but the opportunities are endless. So we’ll hit that more on our scalability episode, by the way.

But for this episode, we’re going to be talking about automation, we’re going to be talking about Ansible, which is where you work. So why don’t we start there within Red Hat, introduce yourself and your role at Red Hat.

Dafné Mendoza: Sure. Well, my name is Dafné Mendoza. I’m a principal technical marketing manager for Ansible Automation Platform in Red Hat. And I’m covering mostly the verticals of network and it automation.

Daniel Newman: Well, very cool. It sounds like good job that’s keeping you busy. So let’s start off talking about what’s going on at the edge and with edge strategies. I’d like to talk, because you’re working with clients out there, about the value that organizations are starting to realize when they’re implementing automation at the edge.

Dafné Mendoza: Yeah, well there is a lot of sources for added value when you have automation at the edge, and it’s different but similar also when you are automating inside the data center. So the first one, I’m going to summarize some of them, but the first one is the optimization of processes and standardization, which has multiple benefits, such as shorter down times and mostly reduction of human error. That’s critical. That’s the main cause for downtimes. And also this standardization leads to repair being lowered, less time to market and higher customer satisfaction, which is critical now for all the industries.

Now thinking about edge, we have different type of customers. One of them is industrial and industrial use cases. That’s oil, gas, mining, all of these industries have different needs. Most of them around safety regulations because things can literally explode there. So this is an environment where accidents can have a major toll, mostly on people’s safety, but also stopping operations can have a major financial impact. So that’s why some of these tasks need to be automated, and there is this convergence between IT and OT.

And the standardization also allows to have better visibility and you can control better your assets and identify deviations and even tamper devices faster. Because here, when we are talking about industrial edge, you can have devices that are at very remote locations when it is really hard to send technicians in a short time. So this allows to reduce security threats for remote devices and enforce compliance.

And also a different challenge that we have at edge is that most of customers have already brownfield environment. That means they already have a major amount of devices and architectures, which are usually heterogeneous. So they are not consistent and they have multiple automation needs that need to be tackled at the same time. So meaning automation there needs to be simple. You cannot add this extra operational burden for the operators and the engineers that are managing all this infrastructure.

Daniel Newman: So let’s dive into that just a little bit more about industrials. You mentioned that… I love the example that you used.

Literally things can explode. That is true, especially if you think about oil and gas and heavy manufacturing, and these are some of the places where you’re seeing automation being deployed at scale. You have to be in compliance, you have to enable processes to be streamlined, you want to also of course, financially drive more profitable, more successful companies that eliminate some of these mundane tasks that frankly are probably better managed and more compliant-capable by keeping them streamlined using technology as opposed to trying to have people that are more prone to error than a machine managing these processes.

When you say you’re observing, are there some challenges that you’re seeing being solved in the industrial spaces? Or can you speak to any other challenges beyond some of that… You’d say those major safety concerns?

Dafné Mendoza: Well we have different needs and we already have Ansible Automation Platforms solving some of these specific industrial use cases. So one example we have that comes to my mind is the need to deploy applications into these human machine interfaces, which could be a tablet. And for some regulations, for safety regulations, for example, some operational activities such as check-in and applying patches need to have someone on site. But you want to simplify the activities or that interaction of this operator that you’re sending to the field.

So there are some use cases where they can manage these applications, these updates as anyone can handle the updates in their cell phones. So it’s just a click on a button and Ansible Automation Platform can run multiple tasks and handle all the dependencies. So this can include hardening security, disabling ports, adding patches, generating the sign certificate, registering this device into inventory systems.

And so it can solve all these dependencies and that can be done through the automation. So you’re, you’re simplifying the operations and you are ensuring that all these devices will have the same version and will be consistent. So that also simplifies the support later, because if you want to maintain these devices, if you want to deploy a new patch, you will have a consistent version to start with.

Daniel Newman: Which is very important that you do that by the way, because that’s one of the big challenges where you start to get things with different versions and version control and having automation to solve that. Maybe not something that people would get super excited about, but if you’re running all these devices, you do realize how critical that is.

Dafné Mendoza: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And the impact on operations, that’s also major concern. So we also had a customer in transportation, for example, where they had to deploy software or upgrades and check these dispatches in the trains. But to do that before they deployed the automation solution, they had to send a technician, but that needed to have the train and not working.

So they had a fleet-wide service impact there and managing the logistics and everything it’s really crazy. So at the end, when they deployed the automation, they also made some major operational enhancements. So the updates, the patches can be deployed even when the train is working. So even when it is moving. And that really enhances the service impact for the customers.

Daniel Newman: We talk about agility and the ability to keep everything running while things are being updated and patched. We all remember when you visit those sites and you see the site is going to be down for x, y, and z. Well, in a lot of industrial applications, you need to immediately be able to patch or be able to deploy those next versions and downtime isn’t an option. This is seen of course, in these mission-critical industrial applications.

This is going to be increasingly seen in digital applications that are also critical, things like financial services and healthcare, where there is no time to be down. Another area that you’re focusing a little bit more on that I’d like to maybe end here on is retail. So you’ve talked a lot about the IT/OT that’s kind of well understood, but continues to grow, but retail seems to be a huge opportunity. Can you talk a little bit about how the Ansible Automation Platform is able to help drive edge automation for the retail space?

Dafné Mendoza: Yeah, sure. Well, retail has similar and different needs. The heterogeneous nature is also a common factor. They have also multiple devices. You can think about 15, 20 devices per location, but we are talking about thousands of locations. So automating at scale is the main challenge. In retail also, wireless is becoming more interesting because it’s the connection point to end-customers. So where they can interact and run surveys, assess behavioral data through the complimentary wifi and make business decisions faster, or even make some architectural choices and see what’s the impact on the customer’s behavior.

So this needs also to have consistency to automate at scale and solve this multiple automation needs per site at the same time. And one interesting scenario is growing organizations that are expanding geographically or the need to relocate, because if they do that with automation, that allows to have a dramatically reduction in the time to market and they can have all these new branches deployed in record time.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. You definitely want to see speed as part of the purpose behind the automation efforts. And it sounds to me like you guys are seeing that in multiple industries. One last thing I’d like you to hit on just a little bit, is you guys launched a new feature in December called automation mesh. What is that?

Dafné Mendoza: Yeah. Automation mesh is a feature that allows to have central control, but distributed execution. So you can have an architecture where you can move this execution notes closer to where the data generated. So this allows you to have this distributed architecture, but not losing the centralized control capabilities, like having controls for the people that are accessing to this automation, all these security integrations at the enterprise level. But at the same time, you can scale seamlessly. So it’s way simpler to scale, and you can have this distributed architecture where you have these execution notes closer to your end devices.

It has also mechanisms that allow to keep the automation tasks working, for example, with unstable connectivities that you can also deploy this architecture when you have these different architectures like songs that are behind firewalls, for example. You can still have this execution notes to provide the connectivity to the endpoints, and it also has some enhancements in the architecture. So you can move from the development stage to production faster, which is a common challenge.

Usually everything works in the development environment, but when you want to move to production, there are some dependencies that are really hard to solve. So it works on machine, common problem that solved through these mechanisms, these features to move the execution, the automation development through containerized architecture that’s distributed.

Daniel Newman: There’s a lot going on here Dafné, and these episodes are quick and to the point. I could spend another half an hour talking to you about automation and all the opportunities at the edge. Sounds to me like you guys are really growing. You’re seeing this market mature and you’re building a number of solutions that the market needs to be paying attention to. So congratulations on a success Dafné. I do look forward to continuing to follow what you guys are doing with Red Hat at the edge and with Ansible, I can certainly see there’s going to be growth there as the edge, and as the desire for automation in organizations continues to grow. So Dafné Mendoza with Red Hat, thank you so much for joining me here today.

Dafné Mendoza: Thanks a lot for invitation. I’m looking forward to continue this conversation.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio