What is edge computing and why should it be part of your IT arsenal? Before answering the second question, an answer to the first is necessary by virtue of the fact this new technology model is and will be of great importance for at least the next decade and possibly well beyond.

Just like there was no stopping – or preventing -- the PC revolution, which eventually lead to the decline of mainframes and the birth of client-server computing, the same applies to edge computing, which Gartner defines as “solutions that facilitate data processing at or near the source of data generation.

“For example, in the context of the Internet of Things (IoT), the sources of data generation are usually things with sensors or embedded devices. Edge computing serves as the decentralized extension of the campus networks, cellular network, data centre networks or the cloud.”

Edge computing, the research firm states, can take on many forms: “They can be mobile in a vehicle or smartphone, for example. Alternatively, they can be static – such as when part of a building management solution, manufacturing plant or offshore oil rig.

“The volume and velocity of data generated from sensors and IoT endpoints will force organizations to deploy edge computing alongside private/public cloud. Edge computing places content, data and processing closers to applications, things and users with the goal of reducing latency. The technology will complement cloud computing, with half of large organizations integrating edge computing principles into their 2020 projects.”

The answer to the second question above is a simple one: According to Gartner, in 2018, only around 10% of enterprise-generated data was created and processed outside a traditional centralized data centre or cloud. By 2025, it predicts this figure will reach 75%.

“Organizations that have embarked on a digital business journey have realized that a more decentralized approach is required to address digital business infrastructure requirements,” says Santhosh Rao, senior research director with Gartner. “As the volume and velocity of data increases, so too does the inefficiency of streaming all this information to a cloud or data centre for processing.”

Meanwhile, a Markets And Markets report entitled Edge Computing: Redefining And Powering Cloud Technology, concludes that it is “changing the way cloud computing works, while complementing cloud in numerous ways.

“Unlike traditional cloud computing architecture, which is based on the centralized storage concept, edge computing shifts the compute or data processing processes to the new edge devices. The large volumes of data generated by IoT devices are processed at the network edge (local network), instead of by centralized cloud servers. The shift in the processing provides precise results and consumes far less network bandwidth.”

Authors of the report not that it has significant growth potential – expected to be worth upwards of US$6.7 billion by 2022 – due to the fact it will be used across a range of different industry verticals with untold types of use cases.

Example of the type of industry and use case description include:

  • Manufacturing: Real-time monitoring and diagnostics and device replacement alerts.
  • Smart Cities: Utility usage, traffic analyzation, parking management and public safety.
  • Oil and Gas: Remote monitoring, disaster and operational strategies, smart metering and workplace safety.
  • Agriculture: Precision farming, soil analysis, weather hazard warnings and cost optimization.
  • Mining: Onsite monitoring and diagnostics, alarm management, predictive maintenance and operational efficiency.
  • Healthcare: Real-time health monitoring, rural medicine, patient-generated health data.
  • Media and Gaming: Live gaming, live broadcasting and file transfer.
  • Automobile & Transportation: Autonomous vehicles, intelligent transportation, connected cars, traffic safety and fleet tracking.

The report describes it as a “revolutionary technology,” and adds that use of IoT devices is “significantly changing the digital journey of organizations, globally.

“An IoT device produces large volumes of data per second. With growth in adoption of 5G technology, the volume and velocity of data will also increase rapidly.

“At the same time, streaming all this information to the cloud or a data centre for processing will also become inconvenient. In edge computing, critical data processing occurs at the data source rather in a centralized cloud-based location.

“The concept of edge computing introduces a paradigm shift in terms of acquiring, storing and processing because in edge computing, data processing takes place on the edge of the network.”

What does all this mean? Markets And Markets expects that many technology partners will guide organizations to define and design their own edge architecture, which is something that is happening today. At the same time, these same organizations must align their business structure with it in order to take advantage of what is possible both today and in the future. In order for that to happen, a well thought out strategy must be developed and put in place.

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Paul Barker is the editor-in-chief of the Edge Computing Association. He can be reached via email at paulbarker@perceptible.com.

Paul Barker