How Edge Computing Is Driving New Opportunities For Data
The advent of cloud computing has revolutionised the way that businesses and individuals access digital technology, ensuring that processes can be quickly scaled and data can always be restored relatively cost effectively.
But one of the key limits to cloud is the speed at which data can be transferred. If you want to start sending extremely large amounts of information via AWS, then Amazon will actually send you a so-called ‘Snowmobile’ – a custom-fitted lorry that’s able to move petabytes of data faster than you can manage via the internet.
Processing data locally
The field of Edge Computing is the more scalable alternative to moving data by haulage. Edge Computing uses micro-data centres to locally process and/or store data, while remaining in communication with the cloud.
The primary application is in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) which requires the processing of potentially vast amounts of data (for example, monitoring the condition and state of equipment as part of a predictive maintenance process).
By doing the heavy lifting close to the point of data collection, Edge Computing significantly reduces the amount of data that needs to be uploaded to the cloud with the benefit of minimising communications costs. Sensitive data can be stored on-site and kept off the cloud which provides an additional layer of security. Perhaps most importantly, though, it means that systems can react far more quickly to new information
Enabling IoT infrastructure
Enabling responses in real-time can provide enormous benefits across industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare – for example, stopping machinery when sensors detect that it’s malfunctioning or issuing alerts when a patient’s vital signs change in a hospital. Of course, this challenge is particularly pronounced when handling the data flows produced by hundreds of medical sensors or thousands of machine components – or even overseeing IoT devices across a Smart City.
“From my perspective IoT, as many people think about it, won’t be able to happen at scale without the proper Edge infrastructure and the proper Edge technologies,” says Angelo Corsaro, CTO at ADLINK Technology and a global authority on Fog and Edge Computing.
Edge will hence have an impact on several levels – enabling the handling of vast quantities of data; significantly multiplying the potential of IoT technology; and allowing AI algorithms to monitor and manage entire IoT systems.
The monitoring, management and maintenance of Edge hardware is just the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to the roles that the technology will facilitate. The first wave of the transformation delivered by Edge will see data engineers and scientists compiling new information feeds and working to optimise systems and processes.
Beyond this, systems architects and integration experts will bring change at a broader level, as a wide range of tools and equipment are brought online, deploying AI across entire systems. Edge is a key enabler of industrial automation – which will unlock the potential for dramatic increases in efficiency and productivity as well as unlocking entirely new capabilities. There are challenges to be overcome in the meantime, though. “[Lots of] people are making big statements about the impact that AI will have on production, but the problems we need to solve in the short term are in a way far more pragmatic and in another way also far more complicated,” comments Angelo.
The limitations of Edge?
Perhaps one of the key anxieties about smart equipment and machinery is that it will require regular upgrades – perhaps on the kind of schedule mandated by the iPhone. Edge, however, resolves this issue by separating the mechanical and computational elements. “What we are seeing is the ability of having Edge Computing with virtualised infrastructure and moving the [computational portion] completely out of the machine,” explains Angelo.
And organisations won’t necessarily own the Edge hardware that they ultimately use. “The Edge for some people belongs to the system and for some other people, it belongs to the service provider,” explains Angelo. “In Industrial IoT, most of the time the Edge infrastructure is owned by the service provider. If you look at telco, with 5G and eventually MEC, the infrastructure will be owned by the telco operator and you will be leveraging telco infrastructure you don’t own.”
While Edge Computing will likely see a broader rollout in conjunction with the construction of 5G towers, it’s also worth keeping in mind that Edge is rarely in competition with Cloud Computing – but, instead, has a very distinct commercial use case.
Edge will be worth $6.72bn by 2022
Edge is set to drive radical changes in industry in the coming years – with its market being worth an estimated $6.72bn by 2022. Meanwhile, IDC predicts that by the end of the year as much as 40% of IoT data will be “stored, processed, analysed and acted upon close to or at the edge of the network.”
Looking ahead, there’s little doubt that the technology will be driving change, and creating new roles and specialisms, across a wide range of industrial sectors
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