What Is Edge Computing?
Data has become the lifeline of every organization. It provides valuable insights to organizations to help them make informed decisions. Data also helps businesses to establish measures and control over business processes. However, it is not just about managing data; it is also about computing this data.
If we look at traditional computing methodology, it was built on a centralized data center. A typical challenge was bandwidth restrictions, latency issues, and constant disruptions of the network. Today data is flowing from multiple directions in an organization, and it requires a computing methodology that handles these huge volumes of data. That is where businesses are looking towards using edge computing architecture.
In very simplified terms, edge computing does, instead of storing all data in a central server, move certain portions of the data from the central storage location and closer to the data source.
So, What Is Edge Computing, and Why Is It Important?
Edge computing is an upcoming computing methodology that refers to a range of computer networks and devices closer to the user. Edge computing is all about processing data that has been generated by a user by having the data stored closer to the user’s location. This ensures that the data processing happens rapidly, ensuring large chunks of data get processed seamlessly. This further helps organizations to make decisions faster.
As it is evident, having edge computing technology has clear benefits for organizations that will adopt it. Some used cases of edge computing technology are in case of self-driving cars, automated retail stores, robots, and smart equipment.
If we look at the components of edge computing technology, it comprises the following:
- Network edge: Technically, edge computing does not require a separate network but more of an extension of the existing network; making it easy to connect
- Edge devices: These are devices that can quickly connect to the network, and we already see the usage of such devices today. For instance, smartwatches and wireless/smart speakers.
- On-premise infrastructure: These are typically your servers, routers, and other local devices used for connecting to the network.
If we closely observe, today, most devices already have edge-computing architecture, such as hospitals, retail stores, and factories. These sectors have mission-critical systems that constantly process highly sensitive data in a reliable fashion. One of the fundamental reasons for edge computing being an exciting technology is the fact that it is transforming businesses across industry verticals, sectors, and domains. It’s been known to be implemented across business functions such as production, marketing, and customer service.
To put it in a creative way, edge computing technology helps organizations to make things in the digital world appear in the physical world. In business terms, it means bringing the power of online data and algorithms to even the smallest of businesses (for instance, brick-and-mortar companies) to help them deliver a better experience to their customers. Edge computing helps to create smart systems that can help workers to learn from these systems. If we observe, edge computing is present in all these scenarios. Edge computing technology helps companies to operate applications with precision and reliability with real-time data processing.
How Does Edge Computing Work?
Edge computing technology is related to location. If we observe traditional computing, data is stored in a central server. This is further relayed across various endpoints through a WAN or maybe a corporate LAN network. Once data is processed at the endpoints, it is relayed back to the central server. The problem with this tried-and-tested methodology is that as and when the device endpoints rise in number (which is quite significant in today’s business landscape), there is latency and other such issues.
Hence, solution architects have shifted from central data storage systems to more edge infrastructure. This means that the data resources from the data center are mobile-ready and brought closer to the point that is the source of the data. So, essentially it means — if you can’t get the data close to the data center, bring the data center closer to the data.
Edge vs. Cloud vs. Fog Computing
There is a constant overlapping usage of the terms edge computing, cloud computing, and fog computing. While the three have certain common aspects, they are not the same, and people should refrain from using these terms interchangeably. The following table clearly identifies the salient features of edge computing and cloud computing, which further helps to understand the difference:
|Operates in a decentralized framework
|Works in a centralized structure
|Latency is at its lowest
|Very high latency
|Limitations in data processing and networking
|Processing and computing power are very high
|Always a threat to data privacy and cybersecurity concerns
|The systems are cyber secure
|Optimizes and sometimes saves bandwidth
|Bandwidth consumption is at its peak
However, when we talk about fog computing, it transfers the resources within the data and not necessarily at the data. When there are very large physical areas to be considered, which essentially can’t be processed in edge computing,
Common Edge Computing Use Cases
While we have gone through what edge computing is all about, it is imperative that we also have a look at some of the use cases. This will allow organizations to take a view on their initiative of adopting edge computing technology.
Manufacturing: An industrial manufacturer implemented edge computing to keep a check on the manufacturing process. It also helped them generate real-time analytics and discover production errors, thereby improving the overall quality of production.
Safety in the workplace: Edge computing can utilize analytics picked up from devices such as on-site cameras, employee safety devices, and other sensors to keep employees safe.
Of course, these are two very simple use cases to give an idea, but they can be a good starting point — particularly employee safety, which can be implemented across sectors.
Benefits of Edge Computing
Combining the power of cloud computing with edge computing can deliver a phenomenal experience for businesses. The areas where edge computing technology has been implemented are no more limited to manufacturing or IoT, but it is further expanded to help in faster decision-making and deliver exceptional customer experience. Here are some important benefits of implementing edge computing:
- Faster response
- Easy to process large volumes of data
- It can be implemented in remote locations
- Cost can be optimized
If we have to identify a single benefit of edge computing, one thing stands out: enhanced customer or user experience.
Challenges of Edge Computing
With every new technology that is adopted, there are certain challenges that organizations will encounter as roadblocks while adopting. The same is applicable in the case of edge computing. It is not a cakewalk to define a perfect strategy for edge computing, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. It is all about going for a trial-and-error approach and learning & adapting as you progress.
Some of the prominent and common challenges observed are as follows:
- Lack of the right infrastructure for setting up and running edge computing technology
- Continuous and rapid transitioning of networking technology with a lot of options
- Objectives and values have not been clearly identified and explored
- Reaching a tipping point of innovation
- A dearth of talent in cloud computing to understand the significance of edge computing
- Security challenges
How Edge Computing Is Implemented
At the onset, implementing edge computing sounds to be a very simple task. However, it is not as easy as it looks. It certainly needs a well-thought-out strategy.
The first step is to define a business and technical edge strategy. It is not just about selecting vendors. It is more about finding out a reason why your business needs edge computing. It’s about understanding the root cause of the business and the technical problem that leads the business to edge computing.
Next, it is important for edge computing strategies to be in line with organizational objectives, business plans, current technology landscape, and future technology roadmaps
As the overall project is inching toward implementation, then comes the step of identifying and evaluating hardware and software requirements. Some of the key vendors providing edge computing technology and architecture are Cisco, Amazon, Dell EMC, and HPE.
Finally, when it comes to the actual deployment of edge computing, there could be a drastic variation in the project due to the project’s final scope and the scale of implementation combined with addressing infrastructure-related challenges.
Lastly, it is important to look into the maintenance of edge computing after it has been successfully implemented. This can be achieved through the following four elements
- Physical Maintenance
Technology is constantly evolving, which is why we are seeing the advent of computing methods like edge computing. While there are use cases to substantiate the strength of this technology, it is still uncharted territory for many businesses. Constant innovation and ensuring the potential challenges and bottlenecks are addressed, the technology can be a revolution in the field of delivering an experience to customers.