The term ‘edge computing’ is essentially short for ‘edge of network computing’, it’s a process that enables Internet of Things (IoT) data to be analysed much quicker by processing it near to where it is created rather than transporting it long distances to a datacentre or a cloud. This increase in speed provides the almost real-time analysis needed by many of today’s enterprises.
Edge computing explained
Edge computing works by storing and processing critical data on a network of micro datacentres before it is then sent to the central cloud or datacentre repository. Mainly used for dealing with IoT data, edge devices collect the data, undertake critical processing locally and then forward the data to the cloud for storage and any further processing.
With edge computing, the IoT device will transfer the data to a local, small-form device with network, compute and storage capabilities. It is this ‘micro datacentre’ device that carries out the edge of network processing before moving some or all the data to the remote central repository.
The importance of edge computing
The deployment of edge devices can have many benefits. For example, some IoT devices have issues with weak connectivity and this prevents them from being constantly able to send data to the central cloud. Connecting to a local device can ensure that data can continue to be processed at all times.
Another issue with IoT devices is latency. When data needs to be analysed rapidly, the delay in sending and receiving can be very problematic. By reducing the distance data needs to travel before processing takes place, edge computing is able to reduce latency. This is essential when delays of even milliseconds are unacceptable, for example, in the monitoring of in-flight jet engines or in the operation of driverless cars.
Edge computing can also reduce data traffic. If an enterprise has a manufacturing plant with a multitude of sensors each producing vast amounts of data, sending all that data to the cloud would require enormous bandwidth. However, this can be dramatically reduced if most of that data could be processed at the edge of the network.
How 5G will aid edge computing
The development of 5G networks by the telecoms industry may make it much easier for enterprises to access edge computing. This is because 5G providers are likely to build locally based micro datacentres into their wireless network signal towers. This means enterprises will be able to access the micro datacentres for edge computing and then make use of the 5G network to transport the data to their cloud.
The difference between edge and fog computing
The term edge computing refers to the computing processes taking place on devices near to the edge of a network. The term fog computing is used to describe the connections between edge devices and the cloud. Fog computing, therefore, includes both edge computing and the rest of the network required to transport the processed data to the central cloud.
Edge computing security
When it comes to security, there are mixed opinions about whether edge or cloud computing is more secure. Those who favour edge computing believe that its security is superior because the data does not need to pass over a network and remains close to where it was created. At the same time, having less data held in a single storage location means that it is less vulnerable. The alternative view is that data is less secure because the micro datacentre edge devices are not as securely protected as a cloud datacentre. So, whilst there is not as much data to lose in a single edge device, there is more chance that it will.
This leaves important security considerations for those designing and deploying edge devices and those considering using edge computing need to check that protections such as VPN, access control and data encryption are being used.
With the massive growth in IoT devices and the number of enterprises beginning to use them, edge computing is set to bring valuable developments in how to speed up the way that data is processed and how it is stored, transported and handled. To many, its development is just as exciting as the cloud, and whilst it will take some time for enterprises to begin to adopt it, the benefits are there to reap. As always with these types of technology, it is usually the first movers who gain the most.
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