Edge computing. Why do we need it? Just what is the real benefit for adopting this way of managing our compute environment in a world where consumers and businesses alike rely heavily on available 24/7 technology with a clear digital expectation. However, what is the real drawback and is it worth the risk. The following brief overview we will look at the key advantages and disadvantages of edge computing.
Toward the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that there would be 8.4 billion IoT devices installed by the end of 2017 and 20.4 billion by the end of 2020, and this did not include computers, iPads and smartphones/devices.
In our era of colocation/cloud computing facilities, where IT infrastructure and critical data are stored in secure and robust Tier III or IV environments, end users and businesses are opting to sit outside this safety net. These cloud environments do not totally suit everyone, particularly those industry sectors that rely on instantaneous data availability or commands to critical equipment such as in hospitals and manufacturing where seconds make a difference.
For example, smart manufacturing factories rely on instantaneous commands or instructions to drive automated robots. Changes to these robots need to be made quickly and reliably to ensure continuity of the process line avoiding disruption or incidents. As to with hospitals, their monitoring equipment in an ICU needs up-to-date, real-time data to enable staff to respond to a critical event where seconds count.
So, as we can gather from the above, latency is one of the key reasons why Edge computing is adopted. Edge computing provides much shorter latencies and thus enables real-time availability, another key reason. These organisations can then take better advantage of opportunities leveraging colocation/cloud facilities. The colocation/cloud environment provides security and redundancy for the companies data to be stored and used for interrogation and a variety of analytics as required within that facility. The business can operate in real time on the ‘edge’ in its current mode of operation without the threat of latency issues and jammed network bandwidth, bringing bandwidth-intensive content closer to the end user and latency-sensitive applications closer to the data.
As a simple example, your GPS navigation system works that way to a certain degree. A GPS uses turn-by-turn guidance, has the ability to detect and recover and is minimally distracting to the user. It uses only one type of sensor and that is the location from GPS. All other relative data is stored elsewhere except the map that is stored on your local device with some application software around it. All the telemetry is provided by satellites to guide that little blue arrow on the map. So, this is real-time availability. The downside in this instance is that there is no redundancy and in other applications, there is a potential loss of data which can be another disadvantages of edge computing.
Edge computing brings the company and its capabilities, and the end user closer together with its data acquisition and control functions, storage of heavy bandwidth consuming content and critical applications.
Low latency and real-time availability does provide across the board productivity increases and is particularly noticeable in the Business-to-Business environment.
Oil & gas exploration is another classic example of edge computing benefits. The used of automated unmanned drones called “aerial data collection bots” are deployed to examine job locations during oil exploration due to their flexibility to navigate and coordinate locations where massive trucks, cranes, and rotary diggers are used where once before manned helicopters were used. These drones can photograph job sites 24 hours a day providing management up-to-the-minute views. So what does this mean for edge computing? It allows the drones to transmit the data in real time and receive timely instructions. The company’s computing power and storage capabilities are positioned directly on the edge of the network to lower transport time and improve availability.
As we have very briefly observed, Edge Computing has its clear advantages and risks:
Whilst discussing edge computing with Adam Wilkinson, National Applications Manager for Schneider Electric, he commented that “edge computing provides the coming together of the digital expectation and the digital experience”.
So apt given that there is a 24×7 digital expectation in today’s technological world.