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ClearBlade v1.0

Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Infrastructure

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1. Summary

ClearBlade is a software-based platform focused on providing application deployment and management solutions for hardware running at the edge. The solution’s key strengths include flexibility of deployment, ease of integration, and enhanced developer experience. The small footprint of ClearBlade’s software at the edge enables the solution to be deployed on existing IoT hardware, avoiding costly rollouts of new hardware in potentially difficult-to-reach places.

The ClearBlade data platform is cloud-agnostic and can integrate easily with existing back-office applications to enrich datasets and augment existing information for better decision making and more efficient operations. ClearBlade also recognizes the importance of developers when working with IoT and edge solutions, supplying SDKs in multiple languages and adopting open adapter frameworks to help developers snap into existing solutions.

Developing IoT applications from the ground up is a challenging proposition for many internal teams. ClearBlade understands the challenge and has created the open-source IoT Package Manager (IPM), allowing developers to share their complete solutions, including Code Services and Code Libraries. An open ecosystem like IPM accelerates the development process and reduces time to market for new IoT solutions. Based on conversations with customers of ClearBlade, GigaOm has heard first-hand about the immense value delivered by the developer-friendly tools and services provided by ClearBlade.

Based on the taxonomy established in the “Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Infrastructure” report, the ClearBlade solution falls under the category of Platform Systems (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Categories of Edge Infrastructure

Architecture

The ClearBlade Platform consists of two primary components: ClearBlade Edge and Platform. The ClearBlade Edge component runs on an edge device and is responsible for local management of the device and running applications deployed from the ClearBlade Platform. The ClearBlade Platform runs on one or more compute nodes in an on-premises data center or in a public cloud provider. The Platform accepts connections from ClearBlade Edge devices, collecting data, hosting updates, and managing policies and applications.

Management of the ClearBlade solution is delivered through the ClearBlade Console, a web UI, and an API endpoint. The Console can be used to access, create, and configure assets on the platform.

The ClearBlade Edge has an extremely small footprint and is designed to run on IoT hardware with minimal resources. The current version requires a Linux-based operating system, 64MB of RAM, and 64MB of storage. ClearBlade Edge supports a variety of CPUs, including variants of the x86, ARM, PowerPC, MIPS, and s390x architectures. The ClearBlade Edge software can run in a mode that is disconnected from the ClearBlade Platform. For downstream communication, it supports common connectivity protocols such as MQTT, REST, and Unix sockets. ClearBlade Edge also has adapters for many other protocols, including BLE, Zigbee, SNMP, Modbus, and more. Upstream communication is initiated by the ClearBlade Edge software, rather than by a push from the ClearBlade Platform that potentially could require opening inbound firewall ports. On the ClearBlade Edge device, business logic can be implemented along with data transformation and streaming.

The ClearBlade Platform runs on one or more nodes, a Virtual Machine, or bare-metal server. The nodes can be run by the customer in a location of their choosing, or hosted by ClearBlade for customers looking to avoid the administrative overhead of managing the nodes. Customers who choose to self-host incur a higher administrative burden, but they gain flexibility around where and how the ClearBlade Platform is deployed. For highly regulated industries, the ClearBlade Platform can be run from the customer’s own data centers or a disconnected location. Other customers are free to deploy the solution in a public cloud provider or colocation environment as they see fit.

Edge deployments can scale quickly from tens of devices to tens of thousands of devices. The ClearBlade Platform was designed to scale both vertically and horizontally to accommodate massive device deployments. According to the company, a cluster of 20 nodes running the ClearBlade Platform can support one million highly active ClearBlade edges and up to 100 million end devices.

2. About the Vendor Profile

3. Key Criteria Analysis

Application Deployment Model

The ClearBlade Platform serves multiple functions, including as an IoT application stack, development environment, and edge orchestration platform. The Edge instances are grouped into deployments, allowing the ClearBlade Platform to publish applications, data, sync behavior, and more to the Edge devices during their next polling cycle.

Microservices and IoT service streams are managed internally by the platform and edge using software written in JavaScript. ClearBlade has written its own highly capable JavaScript engine in Go—called the Code Engine—running on each Edge device, providing a secure execution sandbox for applications. The model is based on a loosely coupled, microservices architecture that handles failures gracefully. Client applications and protocol adapters are developed using the ClearBlade SDKs, available in JavaScript, Go, Python, C, Java, and several other programming languages. Developers can use the language they are most familiar with to develop applications for ClearBlade and publish them through the ClearBlade Platform.

Data flows through ClearBlade using the industry-compliant Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) network protocol. ClearBlade built the MQTT broker from the ground up to provide enhanced integrated security and seamless bridging of edge to platform.

The ClearBlade Platform can integrate with CI/CD platforms to automatically deploy new builds of IoT applications to deployment groups. This option allows companies to use their existing DevOps processes to manage and deploy their new IoT Solutions. Deployments can be sequenced and rolled out in a blue/green or canary style fashion, in which a percentage of the devices will receive the updated software. As the update is validated, it will be rolled out gradually to the remainder of the devices.

Solution Management

The ClearBlade solution is managed through the ClearBlade Platform running on containers, virtual machines or bare-metal instances in the cloud or an on-premises datacenter. The devices running the ClearBlade Edge software periodically check in with the ClearBlade Platform based on a polling cycle or event trigger. The cycle is configurable based on the requirements and capabilities of the device running ClearBlade Edge.

ClearBlade Platform is responsible for managing the ClearBlade Edge software running on the devices and some elements of the devices themselves. The majority of devices that ClearBlade Edge works with are existing devices already deployed in an environment. The Edge software is flexible and includes Adapters—a set of files, administrative commands, and executables used to integrate with a device. Adapters help enable the ClearBlade Edge software to support existing and legacy devices, allowing customers to utilize their existing investment.

The ClearBlade Platform uses Ansible for deployment and Docker containers for the components that compose the Platform. It can easily integrate with common logging and monitoring platforms like Prometheus, Grafana, ELK and DataDog. The ClearBlade Platform also has standard APIs available to hook into ticketing systems, custom monitoring solutions, and automation tool sets.

ClearBlade has three release trains for its software: a long-term release updated every two years, a standard release updated quarterly, and a tip release featuring daily builds. Upgrades can be performed automatically or manually, and easily rolled back due to the containerized architecture of the Platform.

The ClearBlade Platform is easily scalable both horizontally and vertically. As mentioned in the architecture section, the solution can be sized based on the number of Edge instances being managed, scaling up to and beyond one million devices.

Data Management

Devices running at the edge often are responsible for ingesting large amounts of data and making filtering decisions based on the content before pushing it up to a central data store. The ClearBlade Edge solution runs SQLite locally and utilizes a data-pump to process and store data locally and stream to the ClearBlade Platform. The Collections object in the ClearBlade solution represents the data structures used to process and analyze data. They are created by users on the ClearBlade Platform and pushed down to the ClearBlade Edge devices.

The ClearBlade Platform uses PostgreSQL by default, although it is possible to specify database solutions external to the Platform. Deployments are a construct in ClearBlade representing a configuration pushed down to one or more Edge instances. Data can be segmented by deployment to provide separation of data in a multi-tenant type deployment. Data is encrypted in transit and can be encrypted at rest if desired by customers. Personally identifiable information can be hashed when stored to protect potentially sensitive information.

End-to-End Solution

ClearBlade’s solution serves as an overlay to a wide range of other technologies, including edge device hardware, on-premises data center gear, WAN and LoRa (low-power, long-range) networking, 5G, and cloud computing.

ClearBlade is focused on delivering the software stack to enable edge solutions like smart monitoring, asset tracking, and real-time location. To create a true end-to-end solution, the company works with hardware and software partners that form the underlying components supporting the ClearBlade solution.

On the edge device side of things, ClearBlade has partnered with over 20 manufacturers to certify gateways for many use cases in industrial and commercial environments. For example, the partnership with NimbleLink provides robust asset management and tracking solutions. Additionally, the company has partnered with Multitech to deploy its solution on Multitech’s LoRa (long-range wireless) gateways.

At the other end of the spectrum, ClearBlade has partnered with cloud hyperscalers like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and AWS to deploy the Platform component of its solution and use the native cloud constructs as targets for data storage. Cloud hyperscalers also are heavily invested in creating AI/ML modeling solutions to run at the edge, and ClearBlade is working with them to enable those models to be pushed to ClearBlade Edge devices.

Regional Coverage

The regional coverage category for Edge Infrastructure is focused primarily on Edge Colocation providers, who require a physical presence in a given area. The ClearBlade solution is software-based and does not rely on a particular public cloud for deployment. The Platform portion of the solution can be housed anywhere ample compute resources are found, whether in a public cloud provider or an on-premises data center. There are no limitations on where the Edge device software can be deployed, assuming that devices meet the minimum requirements and have connectivity back to the platform.

From a business perspective, ClearBlade is currently focused primarily on North America. The company has started expanding its marketing and reach into Europe and the Middle East and is working with partners to expand its solution globally. ClearBlade works with a large number of system integrators (SI), like DXC and ATOS, to augment the efforts of its internal sales and implementation teams. Some partners, like NimbleLink, are selling solutions directly integrated into their products. As the partner ecosystem and SI relationships grow, ClearBlade will address a global market effectively.

4. Evaluation Metrics Analysis

Ease of Deployment and Management

The ClearBlade solution is composed of the Platform and Edge components, with applications and a management interface layered on top. Deployment of the Platform is streamlined by the use of Ansible playbooks, while the Edge software is a binary that can be pushed via a script or installed by an OEM.

Once the ClearBlade solution is up and running, updates and patching appear to be straightforward. On the platform side, a rolling update can be performed to the containers that make up the solution. In the event of an issue, the update can be rolled back to previous container images. On the device side, a new copy of the binary can be pushed through the Platform software and loaded on the device. If an issue occurs, the device can roll back to the previous version of the binary without requiring a reboot or interruption of the device’s functionality.

Scalability

The ClearBlade solution was clearly designed with scalability in mind. When it comes to edge, that is especially important since edge device numbers trend towards the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

ClearBlade Platform is capable of starting small and scaling to demand. The platform is composed of nodes, which can be scaled up in both size and number. Based on current guidance, the ClearBlade Platform can support over a million Edge instances with 20 appropriately sized nodes.

The Edge software uses a push model for communication with the Platform, which means that each instance reaches out to an available node on the Platform to establish communication. Using a push model avoids the need for nodes to burn cycles polling devices. Instead, there simply needs to be sufficient capacity to accept incoming concurrent connections from edge devices.

System Lifespan

Because ClearBlade is a software solution and not hardware based, concerns arounds system lifespan are reduced. The release model for ClearBlade does include a long-term branch, with releases being supported for two years.

What’s more, the small footprint of the ClearBlade Edge software can actually extend the useful life of existing devices. Many devices in the field that might otherwise require replacement can support the minimum requirements of ClearBlade Edge. Because IoT and other edge devices are typically set in remote or difficult-to-access locations, there is a significant cost savings for a company with a solution that minimizes device replacement.

Solution and Partner Ecosystem

ClearBlade is working to build a robust solution ecosystem with its IoT Package Modules (IPM) project. IPM allows developers to share their complete solutions, including Code Services and Code Libraries. Having an open ecosystem like IPM accelerates the development process and reduces time to market for new IoT solutions.

ClearBlade is also working with partners on multiple fronts to expand its software availability and present a comprehensive solution to customers. The partnerships include hardware vendors like NimbleLink and Dell, cloud providers like Google, Microsoft, and AWS, and systems integrators like ATOS and DXC.

Total Cost of Ownership

There are a few major costs associated with an IoT project. The first is the cost of rolling out devices to all the necessary locations, which often can be remote or hard-to-access. Another is the cost of developing an application to run on the platform, especially if the platform is not developer-friendly. And lastly, there is the cost of integrating the solution with existing software in the organization. Hooking the new IoT solution into an existing ERP or mainframe application could prove extremely difficult.

The ClearBlade solution is licensed based on the number of managed Edge instances, which means the cost of the solution scales with the size of the deployment. At the same time, the software’s flexibility means that existing devices may be able to run the Edge software without requiring expensive rollouts. ClearBlade has shown itself to be extremely developer-friendly based on customer feedback, and it appears that developing a solution on the ClearBlade platform is simple and straightforward. ClearBlade also has robust integration capabilities with traditional back-office solutions—such as SAP Hana, IBM Maximo, and Oracle Data Warehouse—that can benefit from integration with the data coming from ClearBlade.

Performance

Overall performance of the solution is grounded in how effectively it can process and ingest data coming from many sources. Because the ClearBlade Platform can scale horizontally, it is able to ingest the incoming streams from millions of Edge instances.

ClearBlade Edge also has tools for developing data models and performing local processing to make decisions at the edge and limit the amount of data being pushed up to the Platform. Depending on the hardware specifications of the devices running ClearBlade Edge, they can also run local machine learning models and take advantage of specialized hardware. The flexibility of the Adapter construct used by ClearBlade Edge makes the solution inherently extensible.

Efficiency

ClearBlade exhibits superior efficiency, thanks to the constructs it employs for data management and processing. By properly utilizing Collections and Deployments, customers can ensure that their applications use scarce local resources efficiently.

At the ClearBlade Platform level, the ability to scale the number and size of nodes that make up the solution empowers customers to be more efficient in the consumption of resources. As the number of Edge instances grows, the Platform can grow as well. If the number shrinks or requirements change, the Platform configuration can shift to accommodate that.

5. Bottom Line

ClearBlade is a robust and flexible solution addressing the needs of edge and IoT customers in multiple use cases. The company is focused on solving problems for both operators of Edge Infrastructure and developers writing applications to run at the edge. Its flexibility ensures that it can integrate with the existing IT landscape, including the existing devices running at the edge and the back-office applications running in the data center. By embracing the developer experience, ClearBlade has set itself apart from the competition—a key characteristic as developers are vital players in making IoT solutions work effectively.

ClearBlade is clearly working hard to enhance its existing use cases around asset management, real-time location tracking, and smart device integration, while also seeking to expand beyond these core use cases into adjacent markets. The company is forging an open ecosystem for software development, and partnering with hardware and software vendors to create end-to-end customer solutions. Coupled with a robust pipeline of opportunities and solid financial backing, ClearBlade is clearly a challenger in the Edge Infrastructure platform systems category, quickly moving into a leadership position.

6. About Ned Bellavance

Ned Bellavance

Ned Bellavance is an IT professional with almost 20 years of experience. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies and SMBs across multiple verticals, developing and deploying both on-premises and cloud-based architectures. Ned has authored books on the Azure Kubernetes Service and on HashiCorp Terraform and holds several industry certifications from vendors, including Microsoft, VMware, AWS, and Citrix.

7. About GigaOm

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8. Copyright

© Knowingly, Inc. 2020 "ClearBlade" is a trademark of Knowingly, Inc. For permission to reproduce this report, please contact sales@gigaom.com.