“IoT at the edge is about more than processing…”: Q&A with Hiep Pham, Virtium

IoT solutions exist for situations where communication with the cloud is spotty. Intelligent external storage is where Virtium excels.

Editor’s Note: Embedded Systems Engineering (ESE) spoke with Hiep Pham, VP of research and development at Virtium at IoT DevCon in Santa Clara recently. Virtium’s unique problem-solving abilities extend across several markets and, of course, factor heavily in IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT).

Lynnette Reese, Embedded Systems Engineering (LR): Virtium is known for industrial-grade solid state storage (SSD) and memory solutions for industrial automation, energy, medical, communications, and digital video and signage. Can you expand on that? 

Hiep Pham is Vice President of R & D at Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory, in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Pham develops product lines of networked intelligent secure storage for IIoT and directs Virtium’s Vietnam engineering team. Before joining Virtium, Hiep co-founded a number of start-up technology companies, including WIDCOMM, later acquired by Broadcom. Prior, Pham was President of R & D for Uniden Corp. Pham earned a B.S.E.E. from McGill University, an M.S. in Communications from the University of Ottawa, and holds several patents. (Image: www.virtium.com).

Hiep Pham, Virtium (HP): Virtium has provided storage and memory solutions for the industrial embedded market for more than 20 years.  In addition to our base offerings, we are focusing on providing sophisticated storage solutions. Virtium specializes in current and legacy data interoperability, data transfer and security, real-time incident management, storage management, and scalability. Embedding microprocessors and adding intelligence to our storage enables this and so much more.

LR: How has IoT affected solutions?  Does storage for data-hungry IoT figure into these segments?

HP: Well, IoT at the edge is about more than processing—storing data at the edge makes sense because you cannot guarantee a constant connection or good bandwidth with the cloud—or perhaps the system must be abruptly shut down for safety reasons.

Example situations where bandwidth is limited would be energy, smart cities, and transportation. Every segment that we work with requires a different kind of functional interface, and software defined storage enables the customer to quickly choose what they need and how it’s deployed.

LR: So Virtium provides IoT solutions meant to deal with situations where communication with the cloud is spotty? How does a data-storage solution help in IoT if the network is only intermittently available?

HP: Our intelligent external storage can be configured to detect and only send critical data to the cloud when the network is intermittently available. The storage can also be configured to operate and send out alarm or alert signals for real-time incidents indicating when this occurs.

Figure 1: Intelligent external storage can be configured to detect and only send critical data to the cloud when the network is intermittently available. (Image: www.virtium.com).

LR: You mentioned that Virtium specializes in real-time incident management, among other things. What kind of real-time situations would warrant a storage solution, and why? What latencies are required for a “real-time” incident response?

HP: A real-time, fraction-of-a-second response may be needed for stopping a chemical reaction or for responding to a high-temperature alarm in terms of life safety. Virtium offers a solution whereby sensors can be connected directly to the storage. As the sensor data is received it is examined, and an alarm signal is generated if the condition is met.

LR: How do you take advantage of the intelligence inside the storage so that you can do a real-time incident response?

HP: Our intelligent external storage includes built-in software modules to  handle the real-time incident event and implement the appropriate decisions. For example, a real-time response may be required in a high-temperature situation where a timely response is needed near the sensor or equipment. Another type of IoT loop may simply be data-logging, and that data needs to be held until later on in the day when traffic has died down.

LR: What does that mean, to split the functions of data-processing and storage between the edge machine and the cloud? What is actually happening?

HP: For Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning, massive amounts of data must be processed in parallel. Data can be coming from many gateways and/or intelligent storage.  If you preprocess and optimize data and put it in the right location, or map it properly for, say, a Hadoop calculation, retrieval is faster. On a large scale, all the data flows and the final computation is much faster.

LR: IoT at the edge should not be the only concern?

HP: Speed is important not just with processing at the edge, but with data that is optimized, or prepared in such a way that it makes data flow much faster. The IoT edge that has real-time requirements needs processing capability; the other requirement is optimized memory mapping so that the data is fast for the cloud to retrieve.

LR: But many industrial automation PLCs are legacy systems. How does Virtium deal with that?

HP: In fact, more than 60% of Virtium customers are working with legacy PLC systems. We often help them by putting in an interface; we might take an analog input and make sure it’s ready for digitization, converting to the right format before sending it to the cloud.

LR: What challenges does Industrial IoT face with respect to storage?

HP: Industrial IoT equipment might be expected to run for 10 years without much intervention. Storage life is impacted by the number of times data is written to it. Because sensor data can be massive, it can really challenge an SSD—resulting in storage life being shortened dramatically. Virtium has technology that can look at the data, then organize and control the writing of it into the storage, thus helping to extend storage life.

LR: How does Virtium secure data?

HP: Security is very important for IIoT, and Virtium employs many layers of security. From the storage hardware device, we leverage TPM hardware technology to create a unique pair of keys whereby only the public key is shared with the network. The software is also verified by the secured boot to make sure it has not been tampered with. On the network layer, Virtium storage is compatible with Cloud CA for security and authentication.

Lynnette Reese is Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Intel Solutions and Embedded Systems Engineering, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.





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