Written by Simon Bennett, CTO EMEA at Rackspace Technology
The true potential of Edge computing will be unlocked over the course of the coming months and years thanks mostly to the emergence of 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and proliferation of IoT devices. Though these next-generation networks and Edge can both operate independently of each other, the likelihood is that one will drive the other, with the increasing use and emergent possibilities of 5G leading to more operations running and living on the Edge.
Unlocking the value of data
Our world right now is defined by data. We already have lots of it and we’re set to get even more as device usage increases and evolves. Linked to this is speed, both in the lower latency 5G and Wi-Fi 6 offer and how quickly data is therefore produced and shared and in our expectations of immediacy in how we live and work.
Analysing all this data fast is therefore where huge value is being driven, and in oversimplified terms, this has largely tended to happen through the cloud – meaning it gets sent back to a central system where it gets processed and then actioned. The reality is that a good portion of this data is not always useful or in need of action. Running it through the cloud just wastes time, adds to energy usage, and costs money.
Where Edge will emerge as a real point of difference is through enabling simple devices to recognise normal or expected performance or metrics, creating localised closed loops that can keep everything running. A sector that is poised to benefit greatly from embracing Edge is retail – and it serves as a perfect use case for what is possible in every industry. Retail produces high volumes of data generated by IoT sensors, cameras, and beacons that feed into smart applications. These can then be used to help deliver potentially transformative innovations, such as networks that recognise individual consumers and deliver personalised product offers in real-time.
When there are anomalies identified, these can be relayed to the cloud and informed decisions then taken, but Edge can quickly get us to a point where the amount of data shared back to the cloud is greatly reduced.
Localising the network
Industry 4.0 continues to evolve and we will see a lot of organisations putting in their own local 5G or Wi-Fi 6 networks for this kind of private usage to shorten the loop on the data cycle through Edge. Enterprises looking to adopt 5G or Wi-Fi 6 and Edge can enhance end-user and application experience, optimise connectivity to IoT devices, deliver data compute and insights and enable real-time IT automation.
There are any number of use cases – pre-emptive preventative maintenance, for example, where smart monitoring devices detect when action needs to be taken, such as air conditioning units that need servicing or replacing. There can be a constant stream of data, all kept on the Edge when there is nothing wrong but then escalated through the cloud when an anomaly is identified, allowing suitable action to be taken.
Edge can also facilitate local decision-making, both through automation and through the ease with which information can be relayed to human decision-makers. Again, reducing the time and cost taken to relay information to and from the cloud. The focus on 5G as purely a slightly faster mobile network has been misleading and arguably contributed to its slower adoption. This will quickly change as businesses recognise the efficiencies that can be achieved by having their own local networks, in turn increasing the use of Edge as a smart way of optimising certain operations.
A symbiotic relationship with cloud
The key thing to keep in mind is that this is not an either/or situation. Cloud will remain at the heart of businesses. The way they have evolved over the past decade will continue to dictate that – so much of what we do and how the world works is driven by the cloud.
Edge is a natural evolution of this. It will allow organisations to use their cloud architecture more intelligently and improve their ability to play to their strengths. Ultimately, combining Edge with the cloud brings huge benefits, from improved cost efficiency to better-informed human decision-making. Manufacturing and healthcare are two notable industries that can benefit but in an increasingly hybrid society, Edge’s impact will soon be felt by all of us – and make the way we draw from the cloud far more efficient in the long run.