Edge Computing: One Step and More Beyond the Cloud
Cloud computing has been a boon for data storage and usage.
Individuals, as well as businesses, have benefitted as our consumption and use of information increases daily. Today, most data processing takes place on the cloud rather than on a device. But this paradigm is about to shift.
Edge computing is computing that takes place close to the source—on an edge-enabled device rather than a centralized network or cloud.
The benefits of edge computing are faster response times (by cutting down on the use of a middle-man, i.e. a centralized network like a cloud), lower costs, less network traffic and increased application efficiency.
By moving the cloud to edge locations, critical-edge applications like augmented-reality-assisted surgery and autonomous vehicles can become more efficient.
“An autonomous vehicle is essentially a large, high-powered computer on wheels that collects data through a multitude of sensors,” says a 2018 CB Insights report. “For these vehicles to operate safely and reliably, they need to respond to their surroundings right away. Any lag in processing speed can be deadly.”
Until recently, most cloud computing models have been public, private, and hybrid cloud. But digital reach is increasingly not just about connecting clouds, but about extending the cloud infrastructure, the data, apps, and the management, out to edge locations, according to Frank Gens, chief research officer at International Data Centre. “Over the next four years, IT services at the edge will be evolving rapidly and will expand beyond being just about customer experience and commerce experience.”
The major tech players—Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon—are all exploring edge computing. By 2023, more than 50 percent of new enterprise infrastructure could be at the edge rather than located in data centers, up from less than 10 percent today. And, by 2024, the number of apps at the edge will increase 800 percent.
This marks a new chapter in cloud computing.
The edge computing advantage
According to the CB Insights report, the advantage of going edge are many.
Relying on the cloudless means that certain devices can operate offline.
Edge-enabled devices can also mean increased security since data transfer to the cloud can be avoided.
Edge computing also allows communication between newer and older devices by converting the communication protocols used by older systems into a modern language. Legacy industrial equipment can be seamlessly and efficiently connected to modern IoT platforms.
Industries that will likely benefit from edge technology include transportation (autonomous vehicles), healthcare (remote patient monitoring, inpatient care, healthcare management, security), manufacturing (faster, more responsive changes in workflow), agriculture (temperature monitoring, equipment performance, automated slow or shut down processes), and energy (safety monitoring, equipment failure detection).
To support edge, businesses will have to modernize IT to become virtualized, containerized, and software-defined. They should also consider smaller data centres that are built closer to population hubs like cities and business parks, as described in this seagate.com blog post.
Also, the advent of edge computing means that multi-cloud management tools will be more necessary than ever. Each cloud provider comes with its own toolset, rules and user demands. A unified management structure will be essential to keep up with a growing number of cloud resources, public, private, or at the edge, spread across multiple providers.
The future of edge computing
Edge computing is still in its early stages.
At the moment, Amazon is ahead of the game. It's AWS Greengrass service extends Amazon Web Services to devices so they can “act locally on the data they generate, while still using the cloud for management, analytics, and durable storage,” according to the CB Insights report.
Microsoft plans to spend $5B in IoT over the next four years that involves edge computing initiatives like its Azure IoT Edge, which will extend cloud analytics to edge devices.
Other, smaller players are also working on software and tech to enable edge computing.
As technology improves and consumer demand grows, we will see edge computing applied to more areas of life and industry. The cloud may not be going away any time soon, but the edge is about to go places that it can’t.