The edge is the natural home for Internet of Things networks, say rising numbers of vendors, including Dell and Microsoft, which have launched new multibillion-dollar IoT strategies focused on the edge environment.
This is because latency issues can cause problems with highly interactive and transactional workloads – especially when time is a critical factor, such as in an autonomous vehicle’s need to avoid a collision. At the same time, moving data to the cloud can be complex and costly.
The edge solves these problems by aggregating data, processing, and storage at a local point to provide low-latency, cost-efficient solutions. But not every sector needs to rush to the edge, explains Laz Vekiarides, CTO and co-founder of enterprise hybrid cloud storage provider, ClearSky Data.
Internet of Business pulled up a chair for an exclusive Q&A.
Internet of Business: The edge provides computing power much closer to where data is sourced and used. But what kinds of IoT applications and sectors benefit from the edge, and the speed gains that are possible there?
Laz Vekiarides: “Edge computing is based on location of data, location of users, and performance demands, so companies need to decide how much data they need locally – at the edge – to process and make decisions in real time.
“Examples of edge applications include anything that requires IoT or machine-to-machine communications and low latency. Additionally, if an application requires a real-time response, then it’s a good bet for the edge. Autonomous cars and operational data for transport and logistics companies are go-to examples of the opportunities for edge computing.”
And robotics too. But what kinds of IoT applications can perform perfectly well without being at the edge?
“Anything that doesn’t require real-time interactions can potentially run smoothly without edge computing. It really depends on how responsive your device needs to be, and whether or not it can live with the delays of going to and from the cloud.
“For example, I don’t need my smart thermostat to respond to me instantaneously. I can wait an extra 30 milliseconds for it to complete my request.”
Do you think organisations that are still struggling to justify a move to the cloud will be persuadable by a multi-cloud solution that also involves edge computing? Or is such an option perhaps too confusing for some buyers to understand?
“That’s a conundrum, because companies that are considering a move to the cloud want to find the path of least resistance to get there – especially from a cost, complexity, and resources perspective. They essentially want to do what they’re doing today in an on-premise data centre and move some workloads to the cloud.
“These are two very different environments, and the edge is not a consideration for this yet. In addition, edge computing can mean a lot of different things, and it’s still an emerging area.
The edge can be an enabler in many ways, but we’re still years ahead of major IoT device and edge deployments. It’s not mainstream, so I don’t think enterprises need to consider ‘edge versus cloud’ right now.”
What are the next big developments in edge computing likely to be?
“First, we need to see greater creation and adoption of IoT devices. The edge is ideal for purpose-built deployments that fit the requirements I’ve spoken about above – tons of data, IoT communications, and low latency. So when we start to see more smart devices, drones, AI, and machine intelligence starting to take hold, we’ll see a future where the edge takes on more and more computing requirements.”
IoB: Which sectors are likely to see the benefits of these new developments first?
“I believe we’re a long way away from street lamps and traffic lights spitting out tremendous streams of data, but anything that requires continuous automation would benefit.
“Sectors that could see the benefits of edge computing first include transportation and autonomous cars, logistics, and manufacturing. As more endpoints become significant generators of data and 5G networks expand, edge computing will come to the forefront.”
Internet of Business says
A more measured approach than we are used to hearing from a hybrid cloud company, especially as behemoths such as Microsoft and Dell are positioning themselves for competing on the edge, while others such as Amazon are bringing greater intelligence to the zone.
Many of the future use cases that Vekiarides mentions, such as smart street lights, are already in the early stages of urban deployment, while new transport consortia are emerging that look to link connected systems with micropayment services, blockchain, and more.
So while the majority of organisations may not be living on the edge just yet, those that already are will be best positioned for the IoT future – including hybrid cloud providers.
Read more on the the shift from cloud to edge computing.