Edge Computing and Why It Matters

February 17, 2021
By: ABM

Just a few years ago, there weren't mobile phones that could perform the same functions as a PC. There weren’t any smart fridges, thermostats, or robot vacuum cleaners, either. It looks like we will have more and more self-driving cars connected to the Internet and to one another. In short, the amount of data transmitted across countless connections is increasing — and current cloud-centric networks will not be able to maintain high Internet speeds and low latency for much longer.

This is due to the fact that the cloud is a centralized structure. Data is made to travel long distances to be stored in the cloud or processed by apps in the cloud. Then, the stored or processed data is delivered to users who are retrieving that data. The more users and data involved, the bigger and more efficient the data pipelines must be — and the more storage and processing power the data center needs.

But what if data storage and processing happen closer to where the data is collected? Not only does this reduce the burden on the cloud, but it also shaves data travel time, allowing users to receive output in real time, all the time. These are made possible by edge computing.

It is Similar to Cellular Technology

Telecommunications companies install cell towers that act as access nodes to their networks. Each node only covers a limited area or cell; these covered areas fit alongside each other like beehive cells. When a cellular phone user moves from one cell to another, their connection seamlessly switches to the tower of the new cell they are in.

The same principle applies to edge computing. The devices that gather data, be it your smart doorbell, car, or baby monitor, are called edge devices. These are analogous to cellular phones, whereas edge servers are analogous to cell towers. The closer the edge devices are to the edge servers, the more useful their connections are.

Imagine self-driving cars plying the streets. These are equipped with many sensors that continuously collect and transmit data about themselves and their surroundings. As the vehicles move, their sensors switch to the nearest edge server so that data is always processed in near real time. This speed helps ensure the safety of the vehicles’ passengers and the living things around them.

Edge Computing Extends the Cloud

Together with 5G, edge computing will take connectivity to a level that will enable the next generation of technologies such as self-driving vehicles.

To illustrate, let’s think of self-driving cars as reliant on cloud data centers to process data for them instead of on edge servers. The entire process may take a second longer than with edge computing, but that one-second lag may lead to accidents during hazardous situations.

Edge computing is meant for data processes that need to be done in near real time, so the cloud is freed up to receive or transmit important data such as updates. It also means that cloud data centers can be dedicated to taking on processes that require more power than what edge servers can provide.

Enhanced Data Security

Considering the distance data has to travel and the number of hops it has to make to arrive at remote cloud data centers, your data’s network exposure is lower when it is processed at the edge. Edge computing can therefore help keep data more secure.

For example, hospitals gather sensitive patient data all the time. Having that data be processed near the hospitals instead of on the cloud greatly improves privacy regulations compliance.

How will edge computing help small businesses like mine?

Edge computing’s primary use cases appear to be for large enterprises:

  • Factories can use sensors to monitor the performance of equipment in real time.
  • Banks do not have to send sensitive client information to data centers, making banking more secure. This plus lower network latency means that financial institutions can install more places where they can interact with customers, such as ATMs, kiosks, and banking apps.
  • The transportation industry will be much safer, thanks to AI drivers with higher sensory perception and quicker response times.

However, small businesses can leverage edge computing, too. Companies that provide services from site to site, such as maintenance crews, construction contractors, or municipal workers may benefit from the ability to process large amounts of data where they produce it and mitigate any risk of lag or network latency. Similarly, organizations like architectural and engineering firms can collaborate in real time, from remote locations, on huge project files without experiencing the processing delays normally experienced in conventional cloud configurations.

Additionally, we can look forward to businesses serving their areas with hyperlocal apps or regular apps that can zoom in to specific locales. To illustrate, movie theater apps may provide visibility to seat availability of a particular theater in real time, or interior design apps may grant previews of how a room would look, given furniture or appliances available in the vicinity.

To learn how your business can take advantage of the latest IT advancements such as edge computing, consult with our experts at ABM. Visit us at abmis.ca.