Podcast Season 5

Delivering Mature IT Platforms at the Edge with Pierluca Chiodelli

Datacenter IT is used to having tight control over infrastructure and applications, but this is challenging to maintain at the edge. This episode of Utilizing Edge features Pierluca Chiodelli of Dell Technology discussing the modern edge application platform with Allyson Klein and Stephen Foskett. A typical edge environment features many different platforms, devices, and connections that must be deployed, managed, and controlled remotely. When looking at the modern edge, Chiodelli recognizes the different personas and needs and constructs a plan to achieve the required outcome at this location. Modern applications need specialized hardware and connectivity that must be supported, deployed, and managed.

Datacenter IT is used to having tight control over infrastructure and applications, but this is challenging to maintain at the edge. This episode of Utilizing Edge features Pierluca Chiodelli of Dell Technology discussing the modern edge application platform with Allyson Klein and Stephen Foskett. A typical edge environment features many different platforms, devices, and connections that must be deployed, managed, and controlled remotely. When looking at the modern edge, Chiodelli recognizes the different personas and needs and constructs a plan to achieve the required outcome at this location. Modern applications need specialized hardware and connectivity that must be supported, deployed, and managed.

Hosts and Guest:

Stephen Foskett, Organizer of the Tech Field Day Event Series, part of The Futurum Group. Find Stephen’s writing at, on Twitter at @SFoskett, or on Mastodon at @[email protected].

Allyson Klein, Global Marketing and Communications Leader and Founder of The Tech Arena. You can connect with @TechAllyson on Twitter or LinkedIn. Find out more information on The Tech Arena website.

Pierluca Chiodelli, Vice President Engineering Technology Edge Computing Offers, Strategy and Execution at Dell. You can connect with Pierluca on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @UtilizingTech, on Mastodon at @[email protected], or watch the video version on the Gestalt IT YouTube channel

Episode Transcript:

Stephen Foskett: Welcome to Utilizing Tech, the podcast about emerging technology from Gestalt IT. This season of Utilizing Tech focuses on edge computing which demands a new approach to compute, storage, networking, and more. I’m your host Stephen Foskett, organizer of Tech Field Day and publisher of Gestalt IT. Joining me today as my co-host is Allison Klein. Thanks for joining me today.

Allyson Klein: Of course Stephen, it’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Stephen: So we’ve had you join us as guest in the past and you’re somebody that I know who knows an awful lot about these subjects. In fact, you’re one of the people that I really wanted to be a co-host of this at the start. And so it’s really nice to have you after Edge Field Day number one.

Allyson: It’s a real pleasure. I just finished a report on edge computing I’ve been talking to folks in the industry about all of the challenges and deploying edge and I can’t wait to hear about what we’re going to talk about this week.

Stephen: So I don’t want to make it sound like we’re old or anything, but you know we’ve been around in the industry for a little while I, you know, got my start in datacenter IT in the 90s and then pivoted into cloud and yet through it all I’ve worked with some edge environments, I worked with a big retail company, I’ve also worked with oil and gas doing, you know, literally connecting gas stations all over the United States, and one of the challenges I think is that coming from Enterprise Tech, it’s very easy to say like look this is how IT should be done and I’m going to make it happen and this is my domain. But once the stuff gets outside the walls it’s kind of outside your control isn’t it?

Allyson: I think that in data center you get really used to the fact that every aspect of that compute from infrastructure to the the stacks and management are tightly controlled and tightly within the domain of IT and I think that when I’ve talked to customers about Edge it is really a wild west. I mean I would love to hear more about your gas station experience of the IT capabilities of all of the gas station employees for the devices that you’re installing but this is a prevalent challenge for anyone looking at egde because edge is not, you know, it is not data center.

Stephen: No and in the 90s what we were doing it was, it was kind of crazy. I mean we were literally rolling people out to all of these, you know, mini markets and gas stations all around the country. We were installing stuff. It was basically make-believe data center except not data center and everything was its own weird stuff. Every application had its own hardware stack had its own back hull, everything. And that’s all changing now and what we’re seeing is companies starting to introduce more unified systems, more unified platforms to run applications and also trying to figure out how not to have people, how not to roll trucks and have staff and so on. And that’s why we’ve invited Pieruca Chiodelli from Dell to join us today because he’s got a little bit to say about this challenge as well. Welcome to the show Pierluca.

Pierluca Chiodelli: Thank you thank you thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the introduction. I’m actually running product manager today for what we call our edge, specifically our edge platform and solution in Dell. I’m not new in the arena. I share multiple of the same story come from a very IT-centric experience and a lot of storage in the past. Basically approaching my 25 years in the company and still having fun and now going to the far west with the edge so it’s very exciting.

Stephen: And as a company like Dell, I mean you know the… you’re providing hardware obviously but it’s a lot more than that. I mean Dell is not just shipping boxes to companies, I mean, you’re really trying to partner with these companies and trying to figure out how best to deploy a solution, a platform for applications all around the world and I think that that’s maybe a bigger job than people realize.

Pierluca: No absolutely as on its own what’s pointed out, right, the edge it’s really diversified, it’s very chaotic in one way and, you know, the personas at the edge, they are different from the normal people. We used to speak with the IT data center where they know everything. Everything is very tight controlled and they have best practice and everything. The edge is all about the solution, I mean you mentioned the gas station is fine enough when we start this journey to understand what we need to do for the edge in a different way, right? I mean Dell has been selling to the edge for 25 years but something was changing, something was more about okay now I really need to deploy a solution an end-to-end solution and a customer came to us and one of them was one of the biggest gas stations and we have an interview and one of the things that this person told me she said to me listen, it has become extremely painful to try to manage the gas station because in the gas station I have someone that is at a cash register and I already have forty to forty-five different gateways camera in that gas station and when there is a problem with one of them this guy need to call different numbers need to try to troubleshooting… it’s not his job. and so that’s that’s one of the things that made us realize that there was an opportunity, right? There was an opportunity to extend the understanding of best practice and controlling and change control and security not only to the hardware, but really to manage the outcome for the edge. So that’s that’s was a very good realization.

Allyson: The challenge is that the capability that they’re used to in the data center and deploy them to these environments and there’s, you know, arguably no company better than Dell that really understands the Enterprise and understands the customer requirements. When you looked at the edge solutions that you brought to market, how did you take a tighter look at that customer pain point and define the determinants of what needed to be in a solution?

Pierluca: No absolutely. So that was one of the main Journey. A little bit of story here, at the beginning we looked at the edge and we said okay first of all it’s different, right? When you deploy a solution to a manufacturing, to retail, to an energy, there are three different things right, and there are three different levels of people and organization that you need to try to understand. So the first thing we did was really to acquire that knowledge because nobody of us at that launch, how we did we hire people, that they are asking that. And so to the other point was okay but is solution enough, is the solution solving the problem? Now, solution is a way to show that there is an outcome and you can do that outcome but without changing the architecture underneath, it’s very difficult to solve the end to end, you know, application and solutions span across cloud data center name it co-location image and in each one of these environments, they have different requirements. So the point is the guy that the end is in the store, he only care about the outcome of that solution. For example if I bought a curbside pickup the fact that there is a camera there and there is a GPU inside of the server and the data are also sent to the cloud to do micro fulfillment for example, doesn’t matter but there is all of this behind. So the the challenge was okay you know we sell a lot of hardware we can do solution as much as we can, but everybody can do solution with hardware but what it really is the problem. The problem is how you deploy that solution. How you secure manage and end-to-end things with different personas that they don’t have that expertise in some area the aspect of the store they are not as about this solution and on the other end you have expert in it right that they look at modeling and all other things right. So how you make that trade union between these things that it’s kind of a if we want to call a stretch CICD pipeline that he needs to connect all of these right? So that was really what we thought was a very important thing to solve including obviously the security challenge because if you are outside of the wall of the data center, of the cloud right, that is still very boundary. You need to solve other things like there is no security so the approach needs to be no security there and as Stephen was pointing out as well you cannot send an army of people for a device that is five hundred device. Someone needs to be able to install that device. That device needs to be able to recognize himself and also put the application there because otherwise the economy doesn’t work.

Stephen: So I see a parallel between what you’re saying and sort of the devops wave that’s been striking IT as well because there again you’ve got developers who may have some IT skills but really don’t want to have operational and infrastructure skills. They really just want a platform that works for them. And of course there are developers developing edge applications as well but if we stretch that metaphor just like it has had to make the infrastructure and platforms that supports cloud applications and other modern applications more flexible more, dare I say, composable and yet enforce IT policies of data protection and security and high availability and so on. They’ve tried to make those things very repeatable and programmatic as software and yet the same story is true except in a more extreme case at the edge because at the edge like with end user computing which is another category I think that you have a lot of experience with. You have people who really don’t care. They don’t care about software, they don’t care about hardware, they care about outcomes, I need to get my job done, I need to service the customers, I need to check people out, I need to make things, you know, make sure that the building is secure or think that and so it’s a very different, it’s a different thing. But it is actually an extension of what it has been trying to do for decades which is to make this stuff easy and repeatable and supportable.

Pierluca: Yeah and the parallel is, you remember when back in the days like… again, I don’t want to date ourselves, but think about when we didn’t have a self-service portal. I mean I can mention other company that they made an entire business based on the fact that now you can offer a service portal and you can go there and order your VM or your license and be deploy all of that is not there right? So that’s a very interesting angle and by the way that’s why in our architecture we acquire a specific open source technology that we use that is a Tosca blueprint that is, it’s kind of a language that describe an outcome, describe the packaging, describe the VM that you need to deploy, describe the memory that you need to use, describe the device where you need to and it can be very complex. And the things we want to do there obviously is to make this also no-code approach right? You mentioned composer that’s actually one of our ideas and things that we have, that allow you to compose this blueprint and this blueprint can be a validated certified blue frame for Dell, but can be a validated certified blueprint for one of our ISV or from our partner that stay in a catalog and so you can click and basically deploy in the same way that you can do that for your VM or exchange or power BI for your central IT. Now we are at the infancy of these things because at the edge you need to also have the secure of the hardware, you need to have that zero-trust and zero-touch, because it’s not just to do a CICD pipeline, but if you merge that also you know we speak a lot about AI for example, and general AI, where you can build these things based on all that no-code technology and transform this thing, then they’re very powerful right? In the example that I made like a computer vision example or you need to deploy a lot of things in multiple locations. Now for the edge, all that the compute need to be secure not tamper very locked down so I mean the operator that is there that it looks at the monitor needs to only look at the monitor that is attached maybe to a gateway with sensor and other things. But then in every step in place you want to also to have the ability to deploy application to existing infrastructure, right? As Dell, another one we have very successful product from HCI and other things but you may need only for making that edge end-to-end to deploy one piece there right? Now, you don’t care really there, yes you care but not about the zero-trust security because you are in a data center is something that is already there or you are in the cloud but the entire end-to-end networks. So there is a different things that they are happening. Not only you need to have the right hardware, but now you need to deploy the things, but on top of those things when you secure the things you need to deploy the application and how you deploy needs to be very transparent, right? Like we’re doing today for a service portal for example.

Allyson: When you look at, we’re using the term edge like it’s one edge, so I just want to take a step back and say you’re looking at a continuum of of locations and operating environments from datacenter through the near edge and to the far edge. When you think about that one of the things that I consider is how do you get a continuous view from an, you know, IT Ops perspective into looking into the IT free frontiers that exist in some of these operating environments and how do you determine what those non-IT resources need to be able to view in those edge locations? What do you think is the right approach to that?

Pierluca: This is an awesome question because we spent so much time to try to understand the personas right? So when like, in our case when we decide to build the platform that we call native edge, right, there was a lot of discussion because obviously what someone need to look to and the person that is on the manufacturing line is different from the person that operates inside of the manufacturing and it’s different from the person that is a, in the IT or the person that manage the cloud so we need to create a multi-tenant but multi-persona approach where based on your persona you have access to the things that they are relevant to you. And how we doing that, um, first of all you need to have the right ISV for relevance to for example the Persona that is on the manufacturing line. Like, for example, we have a partner, Litmus that or tell it device wise that connect and aggregate um thousands of different sensors to a place. Now the outcome of that the Persona that looks at that stuff is that wants a dashboard, that’s what he wants. Now it doesn’t know that there is an application there that is a container that needs to run on the thing and need to connect to a cloud and there is another piece in the cloud maybe there is a storage in another place, but we orchestrate the entire end-to-end. Now the person that is in IT or the operator of the platform need to know that there are all these different data. For the person that is just outside is consuming what the dashboard and everything has been produced that’s not relevant. So that’s why you need to at the edge not only you need to solve the scale but you need to solve the different personas aspect. That is more relevant in IT in the sense that in IT if you remember right, Stephen, myself, we came from storage as well. There is an operator, an administrator, and another monitor and that’s it. I mean there is no… in the edge, it depends of what application you deploy. You need to give access to those personas to the relevant thing and so that’s the tricky part that you need to have a tight but open way to deploy this thing and so that’s why the blueprint allow you to open certain things and allow you to change the theme based on the fact that you have people that they understand the end-to-end and build this solution that also they are a kind of coding and CICD pipeline allowed them to open certain things to this different personas. So it’s a very fascinating thing because it’s not something that we face in the past in the IT, right, and it’s a challenge. But it’s also very rewarding things where you can do it.

Stephen: You know it is kind of like what we’ve been facing for years though, but one of the things that I want to key in on there that’s interesting is many times when we talk about edge, there’s sort of a cookie cutter versus not cookie cutter dichotomy, you know? We’ll talk to some people and they’ll say I have twenty thousand restaurants and I need to deploy the same stack everywhere and it needs to be supportable and secure and et cetera et cetera, but it’s basically the same thing everywhere. And then you also hear these environments that are exactly the opposite of that where it’s I’ve got maybe it’s not twenty thousand locations maybe it’s thirty locations, but I have to be ready to run anything anywhere and have different things and different configurations. It’s a very different problem.

Pierluca: I agree Stephen, but the things is nobody looks at the top, right? So and look what is common. Also the people they say there is nothing common is not true. There is commonality. At some level of the stack there is some commonality it’s just that as we said before right the edge is new, right, it’s a new forming market and so there is a lot of silos. The people they may not speak the same language first of all um you know one of the things that happened to me the first time when I speak with someone we actually create a dictionary because it like you know me starting to speak Italian now and you speak English and another one speak I don’t know Polish. The edge was like this like when we spoke about for example in from my IT point of view, right, when we say life cycle management what do you think it is? Life cycle management formats from it is I upgrade the thing. Life cycle management for someone at the far edge means I take that piece and I replace with the new one. It’s completely different, right? It’s the middle life cycle of the equipment, right? So you need to first understand that also inside of different silos there are commonality. Now the key is to find that commonality and explain there is a commonality and every technology to allow to make those commonality very easy to use. Now the other things is you need to have an architecture that allow you to push yourself to the far edge or the more close to the functional edge. Now obviously there will be always things that for example from safety concern or they will be very very customized, but there is always an aggregation point, especially when we look at the AI/ML and the inferencing at the edge. When you collected it there is always a point where you need to collect the data you need to aggregate stuff and that’s where we can help to simplify optimize the investment as well, right? So now obviously the technology need to be there because you don’t need to only support GPU you need to support canvas you need to support 5G, you need to support many many different things, right? And the diversity of hardware is also very important, right, low cost, high cost, security, not security low ran, or other forms of communication right? You say oil rig for example right? If you have a solar panel and your only way to communicate is low ran or other kind of communication you need to support that stuff. But I think there is a point where there is an aggregation point. That aggregation point is very interesting because you can actually try to simplify the things and that’s the point where you can start to apply that IT best practice if you’re doing in a in a more pragmatic and platform-wise way.

Allyson: I’m glad you brought up security. You know, coming from an IT data center background we think about a perimeter, we think about protecting around that parameter, we’ve basically blown up the perimeter. There is no perimeter anymore. How are you approaching security and what are your customers asking you about that?

Pierluca: Yeah I mean you’re right. When we thought about what what is the security at the edge, there is no security. So how do you solve a place where there is no security. So now we have an overused, I think, term that it’s called zero-trust. Now zero-trust means everything and nothing. What we really do for doing zero-trust now for us we took a very very very very bottom up approach in the sense that we built an entire end-to-end security platform and so what we use in for example we took SDO secure device onboarding with the… we are part of the FIDO Alliance and what we did we did this at the massive scaling in the sense that we change our manufacturing process. we put a rendezvous server, we have vouchers that we can provide to partner customers that they follow the device in that way, we can drop ship the device to the final location the device comes up by himself but already connect back with the voucher and say okay A) nobody tampered this device. B) I need to apply these security things including I can lock down all the ports in this device so if someone take this device its a break the orchestrator that we have will not allow this to come up in any other place and so that’s one of the things. The other things all the communication at the edge need to come from the device from the end point up and not down that’s why I say that, you know, will be great for Dell for example that we can take what we have and just repurpose. The reality is you need to build something that is builded for solving the constraint of the edge and security is the biggest constraint right? Obviously we are at the beginning. we want to do more and more. I mean if we have sometimes. Our architect, he can, he dreams about all this stuff every day right? So there is more to do but I think the baseline was okay how you can do this at scale and secure the device and make sure they are not tempered but also the operating system you put on that because we provide an operating system inside of the things secure and how you can put a layer that then is open because if I need to put solution on top of that I need to be open. I can’t close everything right? I need to have the people using what they pay for and so that’s the other things where you need to balance the things. So it’s very exciting I think. We can do certainly more as an industry and define better, you know, the zero-trust and what it really means to different people with standard for sure. I think security is a is important because, as you said right, we used to have two data centers, three datacenters, four datacenters. The clouds they have regional datacenters, but still a datacenter. We have in some manufacturing that I visit there is twenty thousand gateways only gateways how you secure all of that right so.

Stephen: Well it’s, you know, and it comes back to what we were talking about with life cycle as well because it’s not enough to just have a good out of box experience. You have to have an experience that allows the device to connect, sure, when you plug it in but also to maintain that security over time. There’s always probably, you know, temptation for people to tamper with these things to, I don’t know, run other applications, hey that looks like a PC, I wonder if I could, you know, and then when it’s done too when you need to upgrade the thing or when you need to replace the thing you know to make sure that the data doesn’t leak, to make sure that the system is still useful and you know until it’s until it’s not, and that then there’s no, you know, I don’t know, somebody can’t, you know, have it show up on eBay with everybody’s, with all of your credit card numbers on it or something. All of this stuff has to be taken into account and since it’s by default outside the firewall, to me zero-trust is a full philosophy more than a technology. It says it says this end device cannot be trusted. It can’t trust what it’s talking to, you can’t trust that you’re talking to it, but yet we have to make a system that temporarily while it’s active while it’s alive, works in a reliable and secure way it’s a big challenge.

Pierluca: Yeah it’s absolutely a statement and by the way, zero-trust combined of a lot of things, right? Immutable OS right? We apply immutable OS because some people can change the OS, can enter in the fee, there is no SSH to our nodes. You can’t SSH, you can’t enter directory to the device. You can access the application, but every communication is encrypted and is also redirected through a specific thing that we create. So as I said, there is more to do but you need to design this from the bottom up. There is no other way and you know you have hundreds of thousands of devices in different completely different locations that maybe also disconnected so you cannot expected that every time this device still need to be secure as you said right and it’s in the middle of the Jungle, okay, the satellite connection goes down. Guess what? Still not need to be accessed right?

Stephen: Well this is honestly, it’s been a great conversation. I hate to do this but we do go for half an hour so we got to kind of wrap up. What’s your impression of this Allison? What’s your takeaway and your message to our listeners?

Allyson: You know what I was thinking about Stephen is the edge to me is going from the wild wild west to the wild west and I think that some of the ideas that Pierluca is introduced has given me some confidence that the industry is moving in the right direction to give customers the tools and infrastructure that they need to deploy those capabilities that they so desire in places where they don’t have a bastion of IT resources. There’s still a lot that we need to do as a broader industry to figure out what are these use cases how can we get the most value out of this distributed computing landscape but you know the progress that we’re making is fantastic and I’m excited by what we talked about today as a massive step for the enterprise.

Stephen: Pierluca? I think that we could probably talk to you all day. what’s your takeaway, what’s your message?

Pierluca: I mean as you see I’m very excited about the edge because I mean to me if I go back at the beginning of my career it’s I saw the storage transformation coming, this is a new transformation, right? And there is so many things that we can explore and I think we as Dell, we just put the flag right in the place and then we have people adopting and we will understand more and more. But what we create is really to try to solve that wild west and bring into a wild or a west, it depends. You know it’s very exciting right? It’s a very exciting market because it’s like leaving a new life working life because I see the same things that I saw twenty years ago right it’s the same mantra. There is a lot of excitement, a lot of failure, and understanding quick fail and the stem again and change things and people are exciting and people needs to be helped. I mean, you know, we’re doing a customer event and we have our Advisory Board I mean I, and I’m sure your experience as well you when when you start this edge adventure that there is a the excitement of of those days where you know people really think that they want to do something and they need to change and there is this very exciting things going on. So that’s a very good module and I’m, you know, yes there are competitors and everything but everybody here we try to really bring this more easy way to consume the edge and secure the edge and optimize the edge for the benefit of everybody, our industry, our vertical and at the end our day-to-day life as well right?

Stephen: yeah and I agree with you absolutely that it does so remind me of that sort of, initially in the data center we were just trying to make this stuff run we just wanted to to get it to work and then we kind of got to the point where it worked then we wanted to figure out how to make it more useful, how to make it more consumer friendly, how to deploy it as a service, etc. We were kind of maturing the processes and the practices along with the platforms and I absolutely see that happening here. This is not a new field, it’s just new to deploy the sort of mature IT practices and IT thought processes in this new world and to me that’s, I think, the topic, the theme of what we’ve talked about all day today, which is basically those of us who who’ve worked in datacenter IT, who’ve worked in cloud looking at the edge and saying we need to mature this, we need to bring these datacenter practices, these established IT practices and we need to figure out a way, as you said, to deliver a solution that meets the needs of the application users, not just to put something together that just sort of works and I think that that’s the the most powerful statement from this. So it’s been a great conversation. If people want to continue speaking with you Pierluca where can they find you and continue the conversation?

Pierluca: They can find me in LinkedIn and on Twitter as well but also at Dell.

Stephen: Excellent. Allison, any news from you?

Allyson: Well I’m on Twitter at TechAllison. I’m on LinkedIn at Allison Klein and of course on my platform The Tech Arena.

Stephen: And as for me, you’ll find me every Monday on Utilizing Tech, every Tuesday on On-Premise IT, and every Wednesday for the Gestalt IT News Rundown, so check those things out in your favorite podcast app or on YouTube. Thank you very much for listening to Utilizing Edge, part of the Utilizing Tech podcast series. If you enjoyed this discussion please do subscribe in your favorite podcast application and consider leaving us a rating and a nice review. If you can, this podcast is brought to you by, your home for IT coverage from across the enterprise. For show notes and more episodes of this podcast, head over to or you can look us up on Twitter and Mastodon at Utilizing Tech. Thanks for listening and we will see you next week.