Edge computing is the latest buzzword and every vendor, from infrastructure to security, from telco to cloud, is building a narrative around it. At the same time, end users need to understand the differences — and ultimately the benefits — of a distributed approach to their IT environment.
What is Edge Computing?
Recognizing the increasing impact of edge computing, IDC Europe recently set out to analyze it from a number of standpoints. The initial effort has been to define “the edge.”
IDC defines the edge as the multiform space between physical endpoints (a sensor, an industrial machine, a vehicle, for example) and the “core” (the backend sitting in cloud locations or traditional datacenters, usually seen as the physical or virtual space in which to compute and store data). This intermediate tier may have no continuous coordination with the “core” systems. IDC also mapped different layers of the edge. In simple terms, the four levels of the edge, each requiring a different compute and software approach and greater power, are:
- Packaged endpoints — edge computing capabilities embedded in the endpoint; excludes “capture and actuation” endpoints
- Light edge — low-power computing platforms (typically PC-grade and below) operating specific functions (control, data transfer, for example) and lightweight analytics
- Heavy edge — integrated, mostly enterprise-grade systems, deployed onsite outside a datacenter (on a shop floor, for example), running heavy computation and data storage
- Distributed core — geographically distributed datacenter facilities (containerized DC or point of presence locations, for example) that run on traditional “core” hardware and software
From a technology domain perspective, the edge can be seen where the three key domains of IT (information technology, usually linked to the core), OT (operational technology, usually linked to machines and endpoints), and CT (communication technologies, intra- and inter-domain connections) are combined.
Why Edge Computing Now?
One of the main drivers is the Internet of Things. The link between IoT and edge computing is clear: large amounts of data must be collected, processed, analyzed, and actuated, increasingly in real time. This can become an issue when dealing with the time it takes for a signal to travel from point A to point B. In network terms this is not linked to the bandwidth of your communication channel, but to the latency. Latency is becoming crucial in many IoT use cases, but other factors drive the need to move at least part of the computing capabilities toward the edge — how data intensive is the use case, the lack of connectivity or the cost of transmitting data, how numerous are the endpoints, and where they are distributed geographically, for example. There are also security and privacy concerns, when maybe you don’t want your data to travel from your local branch or you have to store it in a given region. The mix of these variables leads to what IDC calls the “edge propensity” — a measure of how beneficial the edge approach could be to developing the use case.
It’s important to stress that IDC doesn’t believe that the edge will eat the core. Rather, the edge will complement it, with huge potential to rework the way enterprise hardware, software, and networks are architected and balanced between core and edge, with long-term implications for IT buyers.
What Are the Technology Impacts of Edge Computing in Europe?
Edge computing is already having an impact on many technologies: infrastructure (storage, server, networking), IoT, security, and cloud have been hit in the first instance, and other areas, such as data management, workload balancing, and artificial intelligence are now assessing edge computing strategies and the impact on these technologies could be very high in the next few years. Telecommunications will also be significantly impacted by the edge paradigm in the coming years, with 5G being a driver of further change. Telecom players are already starting to see both internal and external implications of edge computing on their business strategies.
From a vertical perspective, the manufacturing industry in Europe is in prime position to move forward with edge technologies, given the effort already put into Industry 4.0.
For more on the technology impacts of edge computing in Europe, download the free IDC report here.