Dell's $66m hub to drive innovation in edge computing

Emerging technology will take advantage of roll-out of 5G mobile networks in S'pore


American tech giant Dell Technologies officially launched a US$50 million (S$66 million) research and development centre here yesterday that will drive innovation in computing near where data is located.

Called edge computing, this emerging technology will take advantage of the roll-out of 5G mobile networks here, said Dell.

Such technology can involve computers or devices like sensors analysing data they collect before uploading selected information or results to a network, called the cloud, to be accessed by users in another location.

Without edge computing, all the data collected may have to be uploaded and processed elsewhere, which can be more costly.

Mr Amit Midha, Dell Technologies' president for the Asia-Pacific and Japan and Global Digital Cities, noted that in the next decade, edge computing is going to dwarf cloud computing, or the delivery of computer services and applications over networks.

When edge computing becomes more mainstream in the next three to five years, Dell's R&D in this space will be driven from Singapore.

"Next-generation innovation will be driven and built from Singapore for the world," he said.

Edge computing will become important in future, especially for smart cities, as it can, among other things, be cheaper to process reams of data where it is being collected and then upload the results.

This contrasts with uploading all the collected data to be analysed elsewhere, which can also be difficult if there is poor or limited network connection.

Dell's new R&D centre - dubbed a Global Innovation Hub and one of several in the world - will also focus on making advances in digital transformation and experiences.

The firm's investment in the hub, which is split between two locations - in International Business Park in Jurong East and Changi Business Park - will also create more than 160 jobs, mostly for Singaporeans, in emerging tech, including for designers, developers and strategists.

Over 75 per cent of the positions have been filled in the last one year, and the PC maker expects to hire the rest by the end of the year.

Besides edge computing, the hub's R&D areas include augmented reality (AR) to enhance customer experiences; cyber security to monitor threats and prevent security incidents; digital analytics; and enhancing user experiences.

Another area is cloud-native architecture, or software and systems designed specifically to be deployed over a network, which can be used to support building smart nations and to help modernise a workforce.

While Dell has other innovation hubs globally, the Singapore one is the first outside the United States to have an Experience Innovation Group that does R&D to improve user experiences, including conceptualising and developing futuristic concept products and solutions.

The Singapore team works closely with the United States team on this, including developing a wellness tracker application built into a laptop. The app captures a person's seating posture and delivers prompts and alerts to encourage the user to move or make adjustments, to address work from home issues like neck and lower back pain.

The teams are also developing an AR assistant that people can call up, by scanning a QR code located on all Dell servers, to help guide them on fixing and maintaining their enterprise hardware.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who launched the Singapore hub yesterday at International Business Park, said that the opening is timely as it complements Singapore's efforts to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He noted that as the pandemic disrupted supply chains globally, Dell's artificial intelligence and analytics team modelled historical demand data from past pandemic events and ramped up consumer hardware supply. This helped Dell to move stock quickly to fulfil orders for consumers.

The pandemic also accelerated many companies' plans to transform digitally and have flexible work arrangements for working remotely, areas that Dell's Global Innovation Hub here will look into.

"The Government will continue to support and invest in such capabilities, to ensure that Singapore is able to distinguish itself on the global stage even amidst the pandemic," said Mr Chan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'Dell's $66m hub to drive innovation in edge computing'. Subscribe