From high-street retailers identifying in-store traffic patterns, to autonomous vehicles interpreting their environment as they zip along, the effects of edge computing can be seen everywhere.
The technology has been doing the rounds since the 1990s, though to date, it has been used mainly to manage data for cloud systems. However, modern developments have given edge systems the storage and analytical power to act on the data they harbour at a machine's location, allowing the technology to actually compete with the cloud, rather than just help support it.
The latest estimates report that 75% of enterprise data is expected to be processed on the edge by 2020. These figures may continue to rise for a while yet because of the altering landscape of the internet.
The internet is what we want it to be. It is moulded to the shape of our desires. And our desires are faster speeds, higher definition, and more screens to view it all on. The move towards bandwidth-intensive content and an increasing number of 'things' is allowing edge computing to take centre-stage across a breadth of industries, with a number of fruitful benefits enjoyed as a result.
The most widely experienced benefit of edge computing is its ability to increase network performance by reducing latency. Since IoT edge devices process data locally or in micro data centres, the information they collect and distribute doesn't have to travel anywhere near the same distances as it would with cloud architecture.
The 'edge' refers to the location where users and their devices meet. It's a distributed platform that extends are far as possible towards the customer, cutting distances and, subsequently, the time it takes for them to be served, achieving higher bandwidth. All this goes some way to making data travel faster, meaning higher speeds for end-users.
Theoretically, the shifting of processing to the periphery combined with the distributed computing infrastructure deployed by edge computing vastly increases the surface area of applications vulnerable to cyberattack. However in practice, the dispersed infrastructure actually reduces the amount of data at risk at any one time. Data is protected on local drives before being transferred back to the micro data centre.
In this, it can be said that processing data without using a public cloud provides an added layer of security. By transforming cloud computing into a more distributed computing cloud architecture, with processing, storage and applications spread across a range of devices and micro data centres, edge computing can minimise disruptions by localising any incidents to just one point on the network.
In the event of a cyberattack, compromised portions of the network can be sealed off, isolating the infected areas without closing down the entire network. This results in only one IoT device being affected rather than the entire network. Networks that use edge computing lack a single weak point and as such are less vulnerable. Even if a device is infiltrated, only a limited amount of data will be affected.
Perhaps one of the more understated advantages of edge computing is in the scalability it provides.
Enterprises have traditionally relied upon dedicated, purpose-built data centres. However, they may not always represent good value, particularly when taking into consideration high set-up and maintenance costs. Growth may also be constrained, as enterprises are rooted to the data centres and so miss out on technological improvements.
Edge computing is able to connect Internet of Things devices to micro data centres, providing the scalability and versatility essential to ensure they remain a less expensive alternative to dedicated data centres.
Micro data centres can be easily enlarged to accommodate spikes in workloads resulting from unplanned increases in end-user activity, or address the need to develop, test and deploy new applications. Once a data centre is fully utilised, another can be deployed in the same facility, depending on the suitability of the office space. Their standardised, prefabricated nature ensures they can be integrated seamlessly.
Investing in edge computing can ensure that existing legacy systems don't become obsolete. Edge devices can act as a bridge between legacy and modern machines, channelling communication to allow for both types to remain useful in the business. Edge computing made its name in industrial vectors, and it is here that this benefit is most keenly experienced.
Still, there is work to be done to ensure edge computing can communicate more cleanly with legacy and modern machines. This has been identified as an issue and also a potentially significant benefit by developers however, and so interoperability testing is underway to see how the edge works with more secular systems. The goal is to create more open interfaces which are characterised by versatility.
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