The most advanced companies, those that apply technology for strategic advantage, were the first to adopt cloud computing. They are now the first to realize that they must move compute power from the cloud and back out to the edge. They now need compute power for advanced analytics at the source of the data or as close to it as possible. There are several reasons for this move to edge computing; the most notable are bandwidth, cost, reliability, security, compliance and latency.
The first reason for edge computing is bandwidth. When we first began discussing the internet of things, most of us just assumed that all the data from these smart things would go to the cloud. We grossly underestimated how much data all the things would produce. Some data is so large that it is not feasible to move it from its source to the cloud. For instance, there are 30,000 sensors on a typical oil rig, but it would take 12 days to transport just one day of data to the cloud. As a result, most of this data is going unused, unanalyzed, just falling on the ground as it were. The key is to do initial analysis of this data at the edge and send the valuable data to the cloud.
Moving very large amounts of data across the internet and storing it in the cloud can be expensive. The cost is especially vexing when the raw data does not actually provide any value. For instance, suppose you have a camera feed that you analyze with a machine learning model to detect certain events. The events may be unsafe operation or changes in inventory. The video data itself has no value. Only the events detected by the model have business value. Why pay to ship and store the raw video data to the cloud when you could instead just send the events? Sure, one video feed may not be that costly, but an enterprise may have dozens of such video feeds at each of a thousands locations. The numbers add up quickly.
System safety or even business continuity may demand local processing of data to avoid possible network outages. There will be network outages. Storms blow down power lines. Workers sever cables while digging. There is also the failure of cloud services to consider. Even Amazon Web Services, as reliable as it is, stops working sometimes. Anyone remember the S3 outage in 2017 (1)? With reliable edge computing, you may still face disruption in business, but it will not be because the network was unavailable.
Some data is considered too sensitive to move across the internet, even if encrypted and in a virtual private cloud (VPC). It is not just military installations, power plants and financial institutions that face such security challenges. For instance, the valuable assets of a media company are entirely digital. Is it prudent to trust the entire value of the company to a third party? Sometimes cloud is simply not an option.
There are regulations in many countries that dictate where and how data can be stored which prevents use of the cloud. The storage of personal identifying information, financial transactions and especially healthcare data are all increasingly regulated. Consider that there are 54 countries in Africa with 1.2 billion citizens, yet there is not a single cloud facility on the entire continent. Where are those countries going to store and process the healthcare data of their citizens?
In some situations the network latency of moving data to the cloud and back again is impractical or even dangerous. Data cannot move faster than the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second. That sounds very fast, but it equates to 1 millisecond of delay for every 60 miles. Distance is not the only factor. The switching between routers across the network can be far more significant. Round trip messaging on a cellular network may take 200 to 800 milliseconds (2). That delay may go unnoticed when reading email, but it is intolerable for machine decision making such as stopping a self driving car.
Cloud cannot meet every computing need. Edge computing is now a real and pressing requirement for many enterprises. The reasons for edge computing include bandwidth, cost, reliability, security, compliance and latency, but there are more. It should be noted, however, that edge computing does not eliminate the need for data centers or the cloud. Far from it. Edge computing complements existing centralized compute power. Each enterprise must find the balance between edge and cloud computing that meets its unique circumstances.
The engineers at the Ricker Lyman Robotic Company are ready to help you find that balance.