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The edge – The future of the IT industry or just hype?

(Image credit: Image Credit: The Digital Artist / Pixabay)

The architecture of IT has been on a lengthy and complicated journey, and with the demand for increased flexibility brought about through the rise of software and remote working, the rate of innovations within it is showing no indications of decelerating. Previously, this journey has witnessed the transition and evolution from mainframes to desktop PCs, and on-premises to cloud data centres. As such, the current transition to edge computing is somewhat of a natural shift in focus, and one that appears to be happening instinctively in computing. But what is the edge and why is it the next frontier for the IT world?

The edge of glory

Across all industries businesses are now adopting an approach that looks at a mix of these pre-existing elements, be it cloud or on-premise. This, along with the growing number of smart Internet of Things (IoT) devices, is resulting in businesses needing to effectively use emerging technologies together. What’s more, they’re slowly realising that an all-encompassing edge of gateways and nodes provides the perfect solution for this.

For this reason, as 5G comes online at scale and helps pave the way for more innovative and data heavy IoT solutions, whether this is in industries or at home, the shifting of computing capabilities to edge networks and edge data centre facilities should be the main goal of any organisation wishing to maintain a great user experience.

Additionally, by having massive computational capabilities in a few central locations, businesses are more likely to see congestion across their networks, especially during peak hours. By strategically placing these servers at the edge, customers can avoid any potential bottlenecks. But how will this approach keep systems, devices, services and businesses running smoothly? 

Driving towards the edge

With billions of devices now connected to the Internet, and as that number continues to grow exponentially, it is no longer sustainable or practical for the cloud to be used as one large centralised server.

The edge allows Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to fully provide the internet the scale, all whilst ensuring networks have the required security to function properly today. As a result, businesses have the capacity to enable a range of things, from streaming video at broadcast quality and beyond for online viewers, regardless of the device they use or where they are, through to providing large software gaming downloads at scale.

However, the edge is not only about ensuring consumers can enjoy and digest their favourite entertainment. For example, wearable devices are expected to sense, assemble, examine and store different biological data to improve quality of life by communicating between the end user, the vendor and third-party apps in real time. These requirements will put significant stress on improving security and storage, which in-turn will undoubtedly raise significant privacy, security and regulatory concerns meaning new investments in these areas will be required.

Another interesting case study for the relationship between IoT and the edge is driverless and smart cars. What is fundamentally a large IoT device, the more ‘intelligent’ the car becomes and the increase in communication with other systems and vehicles, the more imperative it is to have an edge network that can interact with the car and ensure that critical decisions can be made in milliseconds. This could be the difference between life and death. In fact, with edge computing only one per cent of the traffic goes back to the actual data centre, meaning the necessity for increased bandwidth computational power in the cloud Is massively reduced.

The progression towards edge computing will require the decentralisation of computations away from the cloud, towards the edge of the network and closer to the end-user on their device. By doing so, the latency of communication can be reduced and the bandwidth between a user’s device and the cloud can be improved.

The next frontier is not a threat to the cloud

As IoT devices continue to get integrated in our day-to-day lives, edge computing will prove a necessity. Businesses shouldn’t just be jumping ship from the cloud in droves though. As it is effectively an extension of the cloud and is aimed in getting the highest quality content on the internet securely at speed, it will naturally co-exist. Gartner confirms this, stating that the edge completes the cloud offering by addressing its key issues such as latency, bandwidth, data privacy and autonomy.

In addition to this, the shift to reroute traffic in a managed fashion at the edge of networks does not mean on-premises or cloud data centres will become extinct. Some data will always need to be physically stored and processed in centralised locations. By relocating cloud centres closer to the source of the data it is processing, the data traffic travels over a shorter distance and can reach users in a much more efficient way.

The edge allows CDNs to better the performance and overall reliability of both applications and services, better mitigate any bandwidth and latency issues, as well as reducing the running costs for businesses. It is end-user customers who have a harder decision, they must decide whether cloud or edge computing, or a balance of both, is what their business requires and provide the necessary space for their growth. No matter what is decided, the edge is here to stay and as it develops and adoption of it grows, attention will naturally turn to the next frontier in IT, whatever that may be.

Luca Collacciani, Senior Director of Web and Security for EMEA, Akamai Technologies