What is Edge Computing?

Edge computing is an IT deployment designed to put applications and data as close as possible to the users or “things” that need them.

Edge Computing vs Fog Computing

These industry terms have such similar intent that they can be used interchangeably, and the industry is leaning towards Edge Computing as the de facto standard. Cisco coined the phrase Fog Computing, but large players in the space such as GE , HPE, and APC by Schneider Electric have adopted the term Edge Computing.

Edge Computing vs Cloud Computing

Edge computing complements cloud computing in a hybrid IT environment. While cloud computing leverages centralized data centres, edge computing leverages distributed micro data centres at the edge of the network where data is used closer to where it is generated.

Why is Edge Computing Necessary?

Edge computing is necessary to address shortcomings in cloud-based applications and services with respect to performance and regulatory requirements. In short, cloud computing can’t always meet the required demands in terms of response time that critical applications require. 

The Drivers and Benefits of Edge Computing 

The 3 Main Reasons Why Edge Computing is Needed in IoT Applications

Bandwidth

The volume of data some IoT applications create can be staggering, similar to the costs associated with sending it all to the cloud, making local processing more practical and beneficial. It’s also a gating factor for any application that requires streaming large amounts of content, including high-definition video that may be used in oil and gas exploration applications.

Latency

Some applications require extremely low latency, which is the time it takes a data packet to travel to its destination and back. Any application having to do with safety, for example – such as driverless cars, healthcare or industrial plant floor applications – require near instantaneous response time. Cloud services are not optimal in such cases due to the delay inherent in the round-trip to a centralized service.

Regulatory requirements

In highly regulated industries and regions (such as in Europe with the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR), the way in which personal information is handled is tightly controlled, including where it is stored and how it is transmitted, driving the need for localized data centres.

In all these instances and more, edge deployments are critical in addressing these issues.

Why Edge Computing is Needed in IoT Applications

The 3 Main Reasons

  • Bandwidth

    Bandwidth

    The volume of data some IoT applications create can be staggering, similar to the costs associated with sending it all to the cloud, making local processing more practical and beneficial. It’s also a gating factor for any application that requires streaming large amounts of content, including high-definition video that may be used in oil and gas exploration applications.

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    Latency

    Some applications require extremely low latency, which is the time it takes a data packet to travel to its destination and back. Any application having to do with safety, for example – such as driverless cars, healthcare or industrial plant floor applications – require near instantaneous response time. Cloud services are not optimal in such cases due to the delay inherent in the round-trip to a centralized service.

  • edge

    Regulatory requirements

    In highly regulated industries and regions (such as in Europe with the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR), the way in which personal information is handled is tightly controlled, including where it is stored and how it is transmitted, driving the need for localized data centres.

    In all these instances and more, edge deployments are critical in addressing these issues.

Examples of Digital Transformation Benefits

Of course, all IT is about addressing business requirements, and edge is no different. Edge computing is helping businesses as they embark on digital transformations and use IoT applications to improve the customer experience and operational efficiency as well as develop new revenue streams.

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    Improving the customer experience

    Customers see examples of IoT applications all around them. Digital signage improves their retail shopping and transportation experiences. Industrial field service personnel use augmented reality applications to help them more easily service complicated machines and devices. You can now do most of your banking from your phone and have your healthcare devices monitored from afar. IoT applications are making life easier for customers in just about every walk of life.

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    Improving operational efficiency

    IoT applications help improve operational efficiency in areas such as predictive maintenance for all sorts of machinery and equipment, be it in industrial environments or data centres, to rectify issues before they cause downtime. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking helps retailers with inventory management and loss prevention, and enables healthcare providers to track expensive equipment, such as computers on wheels carts. Cities use IoT applications to monitor busy intersections and control traffic lights to reduce traffic jams. Indeed, improving operational efficiency is probably the biggest single reason companies deploy IoT applications.

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    Develop new revenue streams

    Entirely new industries are cropping up based on IoT technology. Uber and Lyft wouldn’t be possible without it, nor would short-term bicycle and scooter rental services. Logistics companies can offer new services based on their ability to provide the real-time status of where containers are and whether climate controls are working properly. Predictive maintenance services that are valuable to customers also mean new revenue for manufacturers and service providers. A slew of home monitoring services now exist that rely on a series of sensors and Internet connectivity. Healthcare providers can now offer “digital hospital” services including remote device monitoring and analysis.

Addressing Challenges at the Edge

To realize the benefits that IoT applications promise, however, requires that edge data centres have the performance and reliability that the applications demand. That presents some challenges, because edge data centres can be located literally anywhere: in a wiring closet or server room, in an office populated with employees, in a retail establishment full of employees and customers, or in a harsh outdoor environment.

No matter where it is located, ensuring reliability and performance of edge data centres involves addressing three key requirements: remote management, rapid and standardized deployment, and physical security.

Remote Management and Services

Most edge data centres have few to no IT staff on site to manage them, whether it’s a remote, outdoor facility driving utility IoT applications or a retailer with hundreds of stores. In such instances, the ability to remotely manage and service the edge components is critical. Maintenance needs to be predictive and proactive, to ensure the site has no downtime and to reduce the cost of service calls. A cloud-based management platform that takes advantage of intelligent analytics applications can be an effective solution.

Standardized and Rapid Deployments

Given the large number of edge data centres that many organizations are going to have, it’s important they be delivered in a standardized, repeatable and rapid manner. The alternative – a series of ad hoc IT deployments – creates a nightmare scenario for both speed of deployment and ongoing management.

The solution here involves using a reference architecture that ensures consistency in each edge deployment. Such architectures define a baseline level of devices and services, while allowing for some variation depending on the requirements of each location. Even better is to have a finite number of reference designs from which to choose for each site, to ensure consistency.

Prefabricated, modular micro data centres are often a good solution for edge data centres. They include all the required power and cooling infrastructure as well as management software. It’s all pre-integrated and installed in a rack or enclosure, ready to accept IT equipment – which is typically installed by an IT solution provider or systems integrator. Some micro data centres are also certified by leading converged and hyperconverged IT equipment manufacturers, which helps ensure good performance and reliability.

Physical Security

Edge data centres may be located in server rooms and IT closets, under cash registers or desks. Even if they are in a dedicated room, it may not be secured. This leaves the edge infrastructure open to accidental damage, attack from nefarious actors who intend to do harm, as well as employees with good intentions who simply don’t know any better.

Providing proper physical security requires three components:

Monitoring the physical space, using sensors that can report on temperature and humidity levels, and detect environmental changes caused by fire, smoke, flooding or the like.

Control over the space, to ensure only authorized personnel have access to edge infrastructure.

Supervision of the environment using audio and video, with recording, so you can visually see who is accessing edge spaces.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those three elements figured prominently among respondents to an IDC survey* about the top concerns over edge deployments. Issues around security, monitoring and controlling access to the physical space accounted for five of the top six concerns the 200+ respondents had about edge computing.

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