Data processing may be about to exit the clouds and move onto the “edge.” In edge computing, data processing occurs on or near a device that’s collecting data instead of sending the data up to the cloud for processing and then returning it to the device.
The dramatic change is being prompted by the sharp drop in the price of sensors, which is allowing them to be placed on more and more objects that will collect data and transmit that data over the Internet. Gartner Research estimates that the number of devices connected to the Internet will hit 20.4 billion by 2020, up from 8.4 billion last year.
But not all of the data collected by sensors needs to be processed or stored in the cloud or in a company data center. In fact, the data created may be so voluminous that not all of it can be processed in the cloud. So it’s widely expected that in the future much of that data will be processed closer to the sensors that created it, in what’s referred to as “edge computing.”
Edge computing may occur in a device or a micro data center that has computing power, storage, and is connected to the Internet. It may occur on the object that has the sensor, like an autonomous car, or it may be sent nearby to a processor located on a cell phone tower.
The edge computing market is expected to surge from $1.5 billion last year to $6.7 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 35.4%, according to an October report by research firm MarketsandMarkets. Likewise, Gartner predicts that by 2021, 40% of enterprises will have an edge computing strategy, up from 1% last year.
“As you go from a couple of billion connected devices to one hundred billion or a trillion, you are going to generate incredible quantities of data,” said Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, during The Channel Company’s Best of Breed conference in October, CRN reported. “We are seeing a boom in edge computing that is driven first by embedded intelligence. When we look at the companies that make things, they are putting in sensors that is going to require all kinds of computing, [artificial intelligence], machine learning close to those edge devices.”
To that end, Dell set up an IoT (Internet of Things) Solutions division last fall that will use hardware and software from across Dell to build products for the IoT edge. Dell is far from alone in pouncing on this new market. Companies displaced by the cloud and the cloud providers themselves are all offering up products and services for this developing market. I asked Jackie to get edgy and have a look at the new computing paradigm that has everyone “on edge”:
(1) It’s speedier. One of the prime reasons to use edge computing is that it’s faster to send information from the sensor to the edge and back to the object than it is to send information from the sensor to the cloud or a company data center and back to the object. The difference between the two setups may only be a matter of milliseconds, but milliseconds count when an autonomous car is driving or in other situations that require real-time decision making.
“The edge can be a hospital bed. The edge can be a jet engine. It can also be a factory floor. Real-time decisions are going to need to be made at the edge. You can’t tolerate the latency that it takes for the data to go back to a data center and then come back to a factory floor or a jet engine. You need those decisions being made in real time,” said HPE CEO Meg Whitman at the Best of Breed Conference, according to the 11/30 CRN article.
It typically takes 150 to 200 milliseconds for data to travel to a cloud provider and back. Placing computers or servers closer to the devices could shrink that time to two to five milliseconds, a fantastic 1/2 WSJ article explained.
(2) It reduces traffic. Edge computing can also sift through information created by sensors to determine what information should be sent to the cloud and what information can be discarded or held for an end-of-day report.
For example, an oil rig in the ocean may have thousands of sensors that generate data on how that pump is working 24/7. If the systems are working properly, all of that data are not needed instantaneously. It could go to the edge computer, which could discard all normal readings or package the normal readings in a report sent to the cloud or company data center once a day, explained a 9/21 article in Network World.
In that example, edge computing might occur in equipment on the rig. However, if the sensor was on equipment on land, the information could be sent to edge computing equipment that’s expected to be set up near wireless towers.
(3) Solves connectivity problems. If a device has poor Internet connectivity, it may not be efficient for the device to be constantly connected to a cloud or data center, the Network World article explained. So the data could be processed, held on the edge, and sent to the cloud just a few times a day.
(4) Questions on safety. Processing data on the edge could be considered safer because the data aren’t traveling as far nor does it need to depend on the security of the cloud provider. However, edge devices could be more vulnerable depending upon where they’re located.
(5) Who’s diving in? The list of companies jumping into edge computing ranges from small providers to household names. Some mentioned in the press include Scale Computing, APC by Schneider Electric, AT&T, Cisco systems, Dell Technologies, Eaton, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, HP, Intel, and Vertiv.
The cloud computing giants—Amazon and Microsoft—are offering edge computing services as well, marketing them as an extension of their existing cloud services. Microsoft has Azure IoT edge and Amazon has Greengrass.
Peter Levine, a general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, warned in a 12/2016 presentation titled “The End of Cloud Computing” that the explosion in data from sensors will “kill” the cloud, though not completely: He continues to see learning and data storage occurring in the cloud while data processing moves to the edge.
“There’s a big disruption on the horizon,” Levine says. “It’s going to impact networking. It’ll impact storage, compute, programing languages, security, and of course management. So, for all of you, I’d encourage you to get ready for one of the biggest transformations to occur on the computing landscape. It’s happening right underneath our eyes.” That’s certainly something to put you on edge.
Dr. Ed Yardeni is the President of Yardeni Research, Inc., a provider of independent global investment strategy research.
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