What is edge computing?

There is a proliferation of data being created by an ever-increasing number of smart technology devices and processing it all is challenging. In our increasingly digitised world, the ability to capture, process and analyse data close to where it is created, offers benefits in efficiency and speed of decision making. You might not realise it, but edge computing is already all around us, from the phones in our pockets to computer-controlled road junctions, optimised video streaming and smart utility analysis.

What is edge computing?

Edge computing takes the processing of data away from a central hub and locates it where the action is happening, in smart objects, mobile phones and local networks. Without edge computing, data gathered from distant locations would be sent to a data centre for processing. With edge computing, decisions can be made at or near the collection point. In situations where fast decision making is critical or desirable, reducing latency is a key enabling factor.

Gartner have forecast that, by 2020, there will be 20.4 billion connected things in use across the world. A large proportion of these will be smart devices operating remotely and linked to the cloud. Truly smart devices should be able to collect data, process it themselves, share relevant information and, where necessary, take action. All without having to refer back to a cloud-based hub. This is what edge computing can achieve.

The benefits of edge architecture

With large amounts of data being processed at or near source, far less information need be sent to the cloud, meaning network traffic is greatly reduced and bandwidth freed up for other uses. Speeding up decision making enables businesses to cut costs, work more efficiently and improve customer engagement.

A standard architecture for edge computing has been defined by ETSI. It is designed to have components that are similar to those used in network functions virtualization (NFV) making it easy to combine the two. NFV and edge computing combined enable network resources to be used and managed in ways neither could do on their own.

The future at the edge

5G, the next generation of mobile networks with speeds of up to 10 Gb/s, will enable the number of connected devices on networks to increase considerably. Research by IEEE indicates that 5G combined with edge computing dramatically decreases end-to-end latency providing users with a significantly improved service. For technologies that depend on reliable, consistent network connections this will be a boon. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies, in particular, will see big benefits.

Businesses looking at the potential benefits of investing in edge technology will need to identify specific areas where it could make a difference. For some, the additional cost and complexity may not justify the returns but, for many, edge computing will provide solutions and open up new opportunities.

Edge computing already offers a lot to businesses, but its true potential will be realised when combined with other technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and software-defined networking.

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