Over the past decade, connected devices are revolutionizing how people and technology interact. The internet of things (IoT) and edge computing are bringing intelligence and decisioning closer to data generation points. Across industries, the power of edge computing is enabling holistic data control, reduce costs, and provide actionable insights toward improving business operations.
The world of connected devices has gained traction – moving from just a trend to powering today’s industrial internet of things (IIoT) or industry 4.0. By 2025, Gartner predicts 75 percent of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. Supporting the growing volume of connected devices required a technology that could deliver on the promises of IoT of speed, agility, and real-time processing. This is where edge computing comes into place. Representing the Third Act of the Internet, edge computing delivers the computing capabilities to local points of a network.
The origin of edge computing traces back to the ‘90s with Akamai’s launch of its content delivery network (CDN). The earlier goal of edge computing was to bring internet infrastructure closer to the users. Essential content was stored regionally to reduce latency and improve user experience. Modern edge computing finds its roots in cloudlets in mobile computing – a two-tier architecture focusing on latency and cloud computing. The first layer is a decentralized cloud infrastructure (high latency), whereas the second layer consists of cloudlets to store soft state data (lower latency). Today’s distributed edge computing frameworks help meet the current demands of deeper edge connectivity & intelligence for the commercial operations.
Edge computing – a strategic investment
In 2020, Industry 4.0 faced its biggest challenge. Overnight, industries had to move to a remote working model to ensure employee safety. The ones that succeeded are the ones that already had their digital infrastructure in place. According to McKinsey, “companies that had scaled industry 4.0 use cases before COVID-19 found themselves better positioned to respond to the crisis.”
The pandemic highlighted the need for industry digitalization. It served as a catalyst to catapult digital adoption five years into the future. Around the world, organizations were forced to re-evaluate their digital initiatives and operational strategies. According to a survey by Forrester, 57 percent of mobility decision-makers have a plan to incorporate edge computing over the next 12 months. The survey respondents stated three main benefits to edge computing – technology flexibility, lower latency, and complex processing that go beyond the capabilities of a simple cloud architecture.
Leading edge computing use cases
Edge computing solutions are diverse and its applications are limitless. Wherever there is a need for data processing, edge computing comes into place. Automation of industries and the involvement of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) improved efficiency, productivity, and delivery of services and products.
- Connected shop floors
The manufacturing industry is an ideal use case for edge computing. One of the earlier adopters of edge computing, the industry operations flourish under fast programmable logic controllers (PLCs), SCADAs, MES, on-premise data centers, condition-based monitoring, and predictive maintenance. The modern industry comprises monitoring systems and sensors that continuously aggregate data from the factory floor. For instance, most shop floors are based on legacy processing systems wherein even the slightest change in parameters could disrupt the entire system. Edge computing helps prevent such mishaps by proactively identifying pain points and providing real-time actionable decisions. Notifications are sent to executives/technicians who can then act on the areas of issue and rectify them before the system crashes/machinery down times.
- Autonomous vehicles
For a long time, the future of motor vehicles was thought to be self-driving cars. Companies like Tesla have already rolled them years ago. Yet, the technology is far away from ensuring the complete safety of the passengers. Cloud infrastructure introduces redundancy and latency in the system. While on the road, even a few milliseconds of delay could be the difference between life and death. Edge helps autonomous vehicles to communicate in real-time, with little to no latency, setting up a continuous feedback loop. It overcomes the lag in a moving vehicle; enabling split-second decisions based on real-time data processing.
- Connected medical devices
The healthcare industry is flooded with the introduction of innovative smart devices that monitor patient health, connect stakeholders, and improve patient care. Similar to autonomous vehicles, the speed of data processing is pertinent to delivering effective treatment, on-time, to save lives. For example, a patient with a history of cardiac issues has a wearable health monitor that tracks, collects, and locally analyses their health parameters such as heart rate, oxygen saturation, and more. The health data is transmitted to patient management systems that can actively detect and alert healthcare providers of an emergency.
- Connected supply chains
One of the main infrastructures to collapse during the pandemic was the global supply chain models. From pharmaceuticals to retail, the rapidly changing conditions disrupted operations across the supply chain. Edge computing can help fortify the supply chain, bringing in accountability, agility, and better communication among the stakeholders. For instance, edge computing and blockchain technology are helping the pharmaceutical industry to trace and verify products along the supply chain. Many pharmaceutical products also require temperature controlled supply chain systems. Edge computing ensures temperature stability with real-time localized monitoring and control during shipping and storage.
Building a connected ecosystem
The exponential growth of data generated calls for an efficient ecosystem made up of vendors, partners, and tools. The integrated partner ecosystem aids in extending the capabilities of edge computing to real-world problems. From hardware vendors and cloud platform providers to telecom providers – all work in unison to create new opportunities.
For companies looking to capitalize on edge computing, building this integrated partner ecosystem is essential. Multiple third-party players are continuously working towards extending cloud computing to the network edge.
Towards a more distributed future
As businesses across the world get used to the ‘new normal’, the goals have shifted from ensuring business continuity to building a sustainable future. For most, edge computing creates the environment for accelerated growth. But achieving near-zero latency is still not possible in real-world conditions. The vast majority of edge applications require fast network capabilities to function.
5G technology is helping edge players come closer to attaining 10ms latency. The future of edge computing would be a distributed architecture that can run seamlessly with or without internet connections leveraging combination of technologies including the LoRa. Extending the capabilities of today’s edge & networks for a digitally distributed future would enable the enterprises to lead & thrive in a post pandemic world of ‘new normalcy’.