Almost everyone that have tried to do some experiments with IoT projects has come across Node-RED, whether this was for a private hobby project or a business application. The reason is of course that Node-RED is a great tool, easy to get started with, large community support and free!
At a first glance, there are several similarities with Crosser Edge Computing solution. This blog post will try to outline similarities and key differences and the key rationale behind some main parts of Crosser’s Edge Computing solution for Industrial IoT.
Edge computing - modular and drag ‘n drop
Both Node-RED and Crosser have adopted a module based approach, where pre-defined modules are connected graphically to define the sequence of operations to perform on the data. This is a well-proven concept used in many business automation tools as well as data analysis/signal processing tools and allows non-programmers to define processes or algorithms.
For industrial IoT applications, you will need modules to get data from your machines using common industrial protocols such as OPC, Modbus, Profinet, MQTT, and HTTP. For edge computing you want to deliver the results to other systems or services, hence you will need modules that can send data to different cloud services and on-premise systems or machines. Finally, you will need processing modules (data cleaning, normalization, filters, conditions, algorithms…) that can process your data to achieve your desired outcome.
Both Node-RED and Crosser offer these capabilities. So on the surface, the two tools may look similar, but there are some significant differences under the hood that have a major impact on the products.
- Performance - The Crosser Edge node can process significantly more data on the same hardware platform. The actual number will depend on the use case but a 10x difference is not uncommon.
One of the major advantages of Node-RED is the extensive library of modules, almost anything you want to do is already available as a module and easily accessible through the integrated repository. Many of these modules are provided by the open source community and this introduces some challenges.
Lack of consistency means that it is not always trivial to connect modules from different providers and you may end up having to add conversion logic to get data from one module to the next. In many cases there is more than one alternative to choose from for a specific feature, which one should you use and what is the status of these alternatives, have they been tested in production environments and are they still supported?
Crosser provides an extensive library of modules that cover all the common use cases for industrial IoT applications. These modules are built with a consistent messaging model and user interface and are production ready and fully supported. This greatly simplifies the usage and minimizes the risk. Modules can also be provided by third parties under similar conditions and it is also possible to build your own modules using our code modules or open SDK.
So far we have only talked about a single node and how to set up processing using a graphical front-end. This is the use case addressed by Node-RED. In most industrial IoT use cases, you have multiple edge nodes being deployed, often at different sites or even on mobile machinery. How do you manage such a complex deployment without adding significant life-cycle costs? Enter Crosser Cloud!
Crosser Cloud - Edge Orchestration and Management
Crosser Cloud is a layer on top of the functionality offered by single node flow editors like Node-RED. It is a managed service provided by Crosser for life-cycle management of any number of distributed Edge nodes. In addition to the Flow Studio, which is the graphical tool for building flows, Crosser Cloud provides the Edge Director.
The Edge Director is designed to simplify the whole life-cycle management of Edge nodes, from onboarding of new nodes, deploying new or updated flows and monitoring the operation of edge nodes. All operations can be performed as easily on a single node or a group of nodes. A tag system offers great flexibility when grouping nodes for different operations. With the Edge Director, you also get version control for flows, as well as for the modules and node software. Upgrades and downgrades can easily be managed on any number of nodes.
Don’t miss out on added features because you don’t want to touch a working system. And how do you know that the nodes are working? The answer is, through the monitoring tools in the EdgeDirector. All nodes send status information regularly to inform on current traffic patterns through the node and the load on the underlying hardware platform. Events, such as loss of connectivity with a data source or sink, or a failing flow are also captured centrally to get the full picture of what is happening in the field.
Finally, there is security, which is top of mind among everyone looking to connect machinery to external systems, ie the Internet. The Crosser solution is designed with security in mind from the start. Some examples:
- All communication with edge nodes is encrypted
- Nodes register with signed keys
- All traffic between edge nodes and the Crosser Cloud is initiated from the edge nodes, to avoid having to open firewalls for inbound traffic. All outgoing traffic uses standard HTTP ports to avoid firewall changes.
- Credentials are managed centrally by storing them in a secure vault. Edge nodes can then reference these credentials when they need to connect to external systems, such as cloud services, without exposing the actual credentials in any user-facing interface.
- With large edge computing deployments, there will be many persons involved in operating the system. With the Edge Director, you get role-based access control so that you can finetune who can modify flows, who can update flows on each node, who can onboard new nodes and so on.
In summary, the Crosser Edge computing solution is a pre-packaged, production-ready solution for industrial IoT applications that provides great flexibility in terms of connectivity and processing options, while still being easy to use with minimal life-cycle costs!