10th September 2019

What is edge computing?

edge computing

Put simply, edge computing is where your data is held close to your IT infrastructure rather than up in the cloud. Data could be stored on a machine or device and shared with others on the same network once connected, as well as separate server, accessible through edge software installed on the machines.

Examples include industrial machines like wind turbines, as well as more common ones such as smartphones, PCs and tablets.

What are its benefits?

Initially, edge computing was used to store and analyse information to send to the cloud. However, as edge systems are becoming more powerful and practical, businesses are now starting to use the technology directly for harnessing the power of big data.

Data can be stored on the actual machines completing a task or function, so the machine can ‘learn’ as it goes along. Operators can learn in real-time too.

It can be more efficient, cost wise too. For example, savings can be made by not having to transfer and store stuff on the cloud. And if the cloud system provider’s server’s down, for example, you can still access your information, potentially saving you time and money.

How does it work?

A good example here is a self-driving car. The amount of data needed for a long trip just couldn’t be stored on the cloud. The vehicle needs to constantly make decisions based on what’s happening right now. Does it need to slow down, turn left or right, or, crucially, make an emergency stop?

As the car experiences new situations, it stores the data learned from it to use in the future. Then when it happens again, it knows what to do.

Will it ever replace the cloud?

Both systems have their advantages and will continue to be used by organisations. To get the most from them both, using edge-based and cloud-based systems hand-in-hand is the right way to go. Thinking about the self-driving car example above, it’ll send data from previous journeys to the cloud that can be used in future models or upgrades, and use edge technology for real-time situations.

Another example could be where a company has more than one site and needs to monitor them all. Individual sites could use edge computing while the cloud would work better when looking at data across the sites. Likewise, businesses with limited storage at individual locations (think oil rigs etc.) still rely on cloud storage.

What about mobile capability?

The growth of mobile edge computing (MEC) has seen cloud system capabilities emerge by local cellular base stations storing data, meaning networks are less congested. However, the technology relies on the cloud quite heavily at the moment, mainly because the 4G network is close to bursting point.

Once 5G is rolled out fully, MEC will improve even more, and things like mobile streaming and augmented reality will become much more widespread and easier to do. It will also speed up and improve the efficiency of connected smart devices that carry out small tasks around the workplace and the home.

Is edge computing secure?

Some people are reticent about using edge computing as they think it’s less secure than the cloud. In truth, it’s not. It just means making sure the devices where your data is stored are secure, especially if there could be personal and business data stored together (e.g. on an employee’s mobile phone).

Encryption, security software and using biometrics are ways you can combat the risk of data breaches. And, as you don’t need us to tell you, it’s vitally important to take security seriously on all devices and machines, whether they’re in your office, factory or someone’s home.