Bring all your workloads to the edge with AKS Edge Essentials. Now Generally Available!
Published Mar 13 2023 11:59 PM 15.8K Views
Microsoft

Today, at Embedded World, we announce the General Availability (GA) of Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) Edge Essentials. AKS Edge Essentials has been developed in response to customer needs for Kubernetes at the operational edge on small-footprint devices for orchestrating workloads and driving business optimization. During the Preview period, we iterated with early adopters to release new features and updates. Our GA milestone signifies that we are now ready to engage with any business ready to go through their own Operational Technology (OT) transformation.

 

We are delighted to have reference implementations and samples available from our launch partners Scalers.ai, Anicca Data and Arrow, ready-to-use on edge devices from our hardware partners – Lenovo and Intel. These solutions make it easy for customers to get started and build secure, durable, and scalable solutions at the edge.

 

 

Our Journey

The genesis of our product was driven by customer insights.  Customers are building the next generation edge applications with modern cloud tools and platforms like containers, HTML5, WASM, and various AI runtimes to enable continuous integration, which ultimately leads to more efficient software development and faster adaptations to changing business dynamics. Customers plan to orchestrate containerized microservices, functions, and data spanning the cloud and OT infrastructure. Kubernetes, with its proven reliability on cloud workloads and broad ecosystem support, has become the de-facto platform for running applications; –it is the new OS powering cloud native applications whether they run in the cloud or on premises.

 

OT deployments on the edge are evolving from single machine setups that rely on the cloud for intelligence to multi-node configurations that need to make collaborative, near real-time decisions on the edge.  These are devices which sense things (cameras, medical sensors), drive physical state changes (robots, industrial machinery), or operate as single-purpose appliances (industrial gateways, Point-of-Sale machines, digital signs).  With an on-premises Kubernetes solution, customers can manage both Linux and Windows workloads on these devices which interact directly with the physical world.

 

AKS Edge Essentials is a Microsoft managed lightweight Kubernetes distribution designed to easily deploy Kubernetes on OT edge devices. Microsoft supports the entire software stack from kernel to cloud, Windows to Azure so that customers can focus on creating their unique business value.

Our Value Proposition

While AKS Edge Essentials utilizes a standard open-source Kubernetes distribution, it offers unique value tailored for building, deploying, and operating OT solutions:

  • Small footprint with a simplified deployment experience – At the operational edge, containerized workloads generally must run alongside other applications like a Point-of-Sale application or a healthcare application on an MRI machine. AKS Edge Essentials consumes limited resources. In its minimum configuration, AKS EE can be installed on any Windows device with 2.5GB of free memory.  In addition to this, AKS Edge Essentials enables users to specify the resource configurations up-front so that they can divvy up resources on the host machine between containerized workloads and native application.  An AKS Edge Essentials cluster can be deployed on a single machine or in a full-fledged Kubernetes fashion – across multiple machines depending on customer scenarios.
  • Fully managed stack – Microsoft supports and manages the entire stack - from hardware drivers to cloud services and everything in between. Customers can choose the 10-year Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) version of the Windows IoT OS, ensuring long-term stability with critical and security fixes. The evergreen CBL-Mariner Linux VM for the Kubernetes control node is supported and patched for all known CVEs with an A/B style update to both the VM image and the Kubernetes platform.  This ensures that the application stack is in lock-step with the cloud and open-source K8S distribution, enabling workload portability.   Container workloads and cluster configurations can be managed and secured using GitOps and Defender, and your infrastructure can be managed using Intune or Azure Arc.
  • Cloud-based management using Azure Arc - Deployments to the lighter end of the OT edge are characterized by 1000s of individual clusters, each running a few containers/workloads in contrast to the cloud in which you have fewer clusters with 1000s of containers running in them. The distributed nature of clusters at the OT edge can quickly become a management challenge and that is where Azure Arc comes in. AKS Edge Essentials clusters can be Arc-enabled and managed as an Azure resource from the Azure portal. This enables customers to streamline deployment and management using cloud services like GitOps, Azure monitor, Azure Policy and other Arc-enabled services that can be extended to you AKS Edge Essentials cluster.

 

Today over 100M Windows devices are used in embedded scenarios world-wide. AKS Edge Essentials is available on multiple Windows SKUs including Windows IoT Enterprise, Windows Enterprise, Pro and Server. Many customers prefer Windows IoT Enterprise due to its focus on OT scenarios and experiences like advanced lockdown features, kiosk and dual operator modes, device image optimization capabilities and a 10-year LTSC.  And, of course, it offers the same world-class enterprise manageability and security capabilities that Windows is known for.  You can Azure-Arc enable your Windows IoT devices and tap into Arc-enabled Azure services. The benefits of Windows IoT, coupled with the Linux-based Kubernetes at the edge with AKS Edge Essentials, helps customers truly enable OT transformation at the edge.

 

The Art-of-the-possible at the OT Edge

Customers are embarking on OT transformations to increase efficiency, quality, and sustainability. Let’s take the example of a fast-food chain restaurant.


To optimize your operations, let’s say you use a ML model to predict the quantity of French fries that need to be cooked at any point in time. Since you have a chain of 4000 stores across the country, you create your model in the cloud using data from across all stores. The prediction of the model is not always accurate as the sales at a given location could fluctuate based on local events like a concert, a game, or the weather. If you could collect data from the point-of-sale systems and the camera sensors in store and order requests coming in online, the forecast can be corrected to reflect a more realistic value and help optimize operations at the franchisee level.

With AKS Edge Essentials you could have your microservices running in a cluster spanning across your existing infrastructure running your PoS application. Using Azure Arc-enabled ML services, you could deploy models trained in the cloud across all the stores. Data from the sensors in store can be processed in your cluster to further tune the model and publish events to the restaurant automation systems. This pattern can be extended to other OT devices like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), medical devices and other industrial equipment, to maintain peak operational efficiency and minimize downtimes.

Our Go-To-Market Partners

We are focused on energizing and expanding our partner ecosystem to create durable and scalable solutions across different use-cases and industries to help customers to quickly get started.

Lenovo AKS Edge Essentials will be enabled across the ThinkEdge portfolio, including the newest member of the ThinkEdge family, the ThinkEdge SE10 with Intel® Atom™ processor . Lenovo’s ThinkEdge line of products enables customers to deploy solutions across the full spectrum of edge use cases. These devices are powered by Windows IoT with applications managed by AKS Edge Essentials. The SE10 adds to that line with a cost optimized yet powerful offering which is purpose built for OT edge workloads.​

 

Scalers AI To demonstrate the opportunities, Scalers AI has developed a ready-to-scale solution that makes it easy to deploy and manage custom Linux and Windows based containers using a lightweight Kubernetes distribution on Windows IoT based Intel powered Lenovo ThinkEdge SE30 and SE450 hardware. The solution includes use cases for intelligent digital signage, sensor-based cold-chain monitoring and stream analytics that are common across manufacturing, transportation, logistics and retail.

 

Arrow Arrow offers a complete portfolio of solutions across partners like Lenovo, Microsoft, and Scalers AI to deliver business transformation at the operational edge. This includes Windows and Azure services including AKS Essentials, the ThinkEdge portfolio, Industry Specific Software from Scalers AI, and edge sensors required to deliver the full solution in production. Check out the demo and request access to the repo here.

 

Anicca Data Businesses looking to optimize their operations and customer engagement with video data analytics can leverage newly launched Anicca Vision – a custom built solution available from Anicca Data Science Solutions. It is an end-to-end CV platform encompassing Anicca’s video analytics modules, Intel’s hardware, AKS Edge Essentials and additional Azure services that enables AI-use cases like order accuracy, store inventory analytics, and footfall analysis for pass-by traffic and customers.

 

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) TCS is leading customers across industries to realize new business models, deliver exponential business value, seamless customer experiences and drive sustainability goals with their dedicated Azure IoT CoE for full stack platform expertise including Intelligent Edge, Analytics and Digital Engineering solutions. Their solutions are even more flexible, scalable and resilient, along with AKS Edge Essentials unlocking the power of Kubernetes to the edge. TCS Industry solutions and toolkits for manufacturing and retail use cases make it easier for customers to go from proof of concept to production quickly.

Check out Microsoft’s booth at Embedded World to learn more and see these partners in action!

 

What’s next?

In the next few months, we will update the product with new capabilities like commercial support for multi-machine deployment and Windows containers along with additional Azure Arc enabled services on AKS Edge Essentials clusters.


We are excited to see how customers will employ AKS Edge Essentials in their unique scenarios to drive innovation that benefits their business. If you would like to discuss your use case or learn more about the product, get in touch with the product team at projecthaven@microsoft.com.

Get started with AKS Edge Essentials today!

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