putilov_denis - stock.adobe.com
As a fast-growing startup founded in September 2020 with 10 employees and a one-person IT department, VoltaGrid was hard-pressed to deliver on its commitment to transform the mobile energy industry.
The energy management and generation company further promised the mobile energy industry's transformation via clean, affordable and intelligent technologies.
To deliver on that promise, VoltaGrid needed support to build a comprehensive cloud-native system that incorporated machine learning, AI and IoT edge computing for its software-controlled and managed mobile electric microgrids. VoltaGrid also required a portal where customers could track the efficiency of their operations and the emissions data of their fleets of generators.
VoltaGrid, with headquarters in Bellaire, Texas, builds technology, integrated with AI, that offers power, energy storage and emissions reductions for industries such as remote mining, distributed generation and pressure pumping.
The company's goal was to enhance operations for its customers, in part by offering them a way to improve environmental, social and governance performance. With limited IT resources, this wasn't a task for VoltaGrid to tackle alone.
VoltaGrid and Rackspace Technology team up
VoltaGrid needed a partner that could design the cloud-native system, including the UI, from scratch. The company was under pressure to get it into production as soon as possible, said John Chavner, director of technology and cloud development at VoltaGrid, who was the company's one-person IT department.
Chavner knew he wanted to build his application in AWS and reached out to AWS partner Onica by Rackspace Technology to help build the internal enterprise cloud-native development app for field technicians and customers to track the efficiency and data of their fleets.
"I connected with the development side of Rackspace. And, by going direct to them, I had a ready-made team; they could spin up a group of developers quickly for me and start producing results," he said. "We put together a project plan to basically architect and build out what we were going to need to be able to support our systems in the field and be able to show our customers in real time what we were doing."
VoltaGrid harnessed Rackspace's expertise to create and deploy the VoltaGrid AI Ecosystem portal. The project -- including building the cloud infrastructure, implementing remote IoT technology and building the application -- was completed in less than a year, said Jeff DeVerter, chief technology evangelist at Rackspace Technology.
"VoltaGrid needed to be in production [within about nine months]; however, it would have taken John about that long to even hire his own team," DeVerter said. "But we were his IT team, and we were able to come along and partner and be that cloud arm for the organization."
Jeff DeVerterChief technology evangelist, Rackspace
To get the ball rolling, Chavner discussed his company's challenge with the Rackspace team.
VoltaGrid builds mobile microgrids to provide power to customers in remote locations, as well as backup power to data centers, industrial facilities and hospitals when utility power goes out. VoltaGrid also supplies electricity to energy companies to power the hydraulic fracturing processes used to extract oil and gas. To provide electricity, VoltaGrid mounts natural gas generators onto 52-foot trailers that each weigh over 100,000 pounds. Working together, 10 trailers can generate 26 megawatts of electricity at 13,500 volts.
"This was a very complex process that was running, in some cases, close to the grid or close to terrestrial internet, in some cases not," DeVerter said.
Steps to tackle complex cloud app, AI Ecosystem project
Rackspace needed to get the data captured by each trailer into a consolidated environment where it could be viewed, analyzed and managed.
To do that, Rackspace built an application that measured how much power was used and the amount of emissions released from the trailers in real time, according to DeVerter. Rackspace put an edge device onto each trailer to deploy the software, collect the data from the mobile trailers and send it to the cloud.
Customers can access collected data in VoltaGrid's AI Ecosystem portal, the portal that Onica by Rackspace Technology designed, built and implemented. The portal determines how the data gets ingested, stored and refined, as well as monitors, measures, and reports on customers' power consumption, fuel costs and emissions at remote locations in real time.
The AI Ecosystem portal displays the data in dashboards, giving engineers the information they need to improve operations. VoltaGrid also uses this data to analyze its operations in terms of power generation.
Although Rackspace has done similar projects for several organizations in other industries, including healthcare, building management and automotive, the VoltaGrid project presented a unique challenge.
"Most of those other use cases are based on terrestrial data lines, but here we were working with LTE and satellite connectivity," DeVerter said.
That meant Rackspace had to convert the data to protocol buffers so that it could compress down the data before sending it over the wire because there wasn't enough bandwidth to push the full raw data.
"We also made sure that the right secure communication paths were in place out into AWS and then building out that landing zone where all that data would aggregate and building the portals for them to view and manage the environment," DeVerter said. "We did that with a relatively small team and in an extraordinarily short amount of time."
In addition, the system has redundancy at the edge for added data protection, DeVerter said. Since data is continuously captured and buffered, the data isn't lost even if connectivity is lost.
"We applied a very lean, agile workflow to the project," DeVerter said. "While the overall goal was very clear, there was some flux to the actual deliverables as we figured it out as we went. This very lean team worked in short sprints to ensure that we were building the next right things that needed to be created off the backlog."
Because of Rackspace's involvement, VoltaGrid was in production with its service in less than a year -- faster than it had anticipated.
Additionally, Rackspace built VoltaGrid an iOS and Android mobile app that its customers can use to view the VoltaGrid equipment running at their sites and see what's happening in real time, Chavner said.
Results and continued improvements moving forward
The new VoltaGrid application helped the startup grow quickly, Chavner said.
"We're up in Pennsylvania; we're in Texas, New Mexico, and we're going to be up in Colorado and other parts of the country," he said. "As we build out our equipment, we're building our systems as fast as we can. And virtually every generator we can put out the door is spoken for this year by customers. Our sales pipeline is essentially taking orders for next year for fleet deliveries to various customers that are interested in what we're doing."
Currently, Rackspace is enhancing the portal, as well as incorporating predictive maintenance capabilities into the trailers.