The need for speed: Embracing the potential of edge computing

Geoff Barlow of Node4

Digital infrastructure plays a critical role in nearly every aspect of how we live and work. Due to the pandemic, more people are working remotely than ever before. Add to this the increasing amounts of applications being migrated to the cloud, and data generation exploding through the adoption of IoT, more pressure has now been placed on existing connectivity infrastructure, says Geoff Barlow, technology practice lead strategy at Node4.

Users and devices are no longer centralised on a network but are distributed across remote sites, whether at home or on the move. In order to maintain business operations, organisations across the globe are being forced to adopt new technologies and working habits. This is because networks have not adapted well to a decentralised model where data is being generated and moved around from all areas of the network.

For organisations to optimise their connectivity investments, they should look at the next big advance in enterprise infrastructure – edge computing. By moving processing power closer to the source of the data, organisations can build efficiencies, capabilities and increased security for their growing tech ecosystems. But there is some industry confusion over the use of applications and edge computing’s potential to deliver for the future burgeoning IT infrastructures.

There are three key benefits of edge computing for tech teams to be aware of:

  1. Higher performance, lower latency

Latency has typically been hailed as an end user experience, whether that’s employees or customers, and it’s particularly important as services across all industries become digitised. But, with the sudden introduction of hundreds or thousands of task-hungry, interconnected IoT devices into the network, any issues in latency might impact services in different ways, such as handling patient records in a hospital, online gaming outages or inconsistent telemetry data.

Think of a device, application or process that previously ran in a tightly coupled manner on an enterprise grade, centralised network but is now trying to operate across the internet this application is now having to wait much longer for traffic to traverse the network. The introduction of more network latency, therefore, can often become a business-critical problem. An example might be a cellular connected smart car where the end user experience would be severely impacted if all decisions had to go back to a central network, which could be offline or experiencing high latency at any time.

Edge computing offers a strategic opportunity to reduce latency and, in so doing, increase their network and application performance. It achieves this by collecting, storing and processing data at the network edge rather than in a centralised location, such as the cloud. If the smart car could process data itself, no data would need to be sent out and, therefore, the application can be much more responsive and customer experience would be improved.

  • Increased security

As the plethora of devices grows in the network for digital collaboration, keeping a strong cybersecurity posture is a priority for digital leaders. It’s true that each IoT device can be a potential entry point for cybersecurity threat actors, and more attack surfaces may be perceived as increased risk. It doesn’t naturally follow that edge causes overall security vulnerability to increase but, in fact, there are two clear security benefits to edge computing:

1) Since edge infrastructure is distributed, it does not carry the risk of a single point of failure as per traditional centralised datastore. Specific security measures can even be deployed on a by-device basis, which ensures the isolation of any compromised parts of the network, thus preventing an all-network disruption should there be a security incident.

2) Since data is now processed at the point of collection a local IoT device or edge data centre this reduces the amount of traffic travelling between devices, users or sites. In turn, there is a reduction in what a potential bad actor could intercept. Likewise, edge devices can choose to analyse, model, and discard any unnecessary data locally before it even reaches a network. Put simply there is less data at risk, even though more is being generated.

3. Speed up and specify decision making

Covid established the need for business agility more than ever before. Organisations must use technology to nimbly adapt to navigate unexpected external market forces and take advantage of niche opportunities. Adapting fast matters, whether you’re an enterprise or scaling up as a start-up, and can help effectively build new or existing capabilities to remain competitive.

The driving benefit of edge computing is a need for speed by processing more locally to where data resides, services will be faster. However, it also facilitates more intelligent decision-making, through harnessing data for insight and analytics.

Organisations investing in edge computing can take advantage of the data being gathered for future insights. AI and predictive analytics models are fed by huge data sets so the more data you can gather and analyse the better. This can provide data insights, from customer trends to network inefficiencies and compliance gaps. Knowing the issues means more rapid and informed decision-making, to stay relevant to today’s business landscape. Many data, ML and AI services, have been integrated into edge computing solutions, such as Azure Stack, to expedite this process.

Embracing emerging technologies

Networking and cloud capabilities have become the backbone for modern businesses. But advancing technologies, such as IoT and VR, are changing the rulebook for how data is processed, as they can’t work optimally in a high-latency environment.

With tech environments constantly evolving, IT pros are always looking for faster, safer and more innovative ways to engage with customers, partners, workers and other stakeholders. Edge computing technology has the potential to deliver faster processing, whilst reducing network traffic and improving latency, all of which help the transformations that organisations so critically need to stay relevant in today’s business landscape.

The author is Geoff Barlow, technology practice lead strategy at Node4.

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