What was little more than a heavy metal ballad over a quarter-century ago is fast becoming a hard-and-fast reality today: Where computing is concerned, we are all livin’ on the edge, or about to do so.
Edge computing is viewed as an efficient, cost-effective, secure means of data processing that has impacted (or will impact) such fields as energy, transportation, entertainment and government. Savvy investors would do well to take note, as the edge computing market, valued at $158.3 million in 2016, is expected to balloon to $3.24 billion by 2025.
The research firm IDC defines edge computing as a “mesh network of micro data centers that process or store critical data locally and push all received data to a central data center or cloud storage repository, in a footprint of less than 100 square feet.” In layman’s terms, that means data is processed at or near the point at which it is ingested, making for lightning-quick speed.
Put another way, processing is performed at the best location for each task, allowing apps and services to perform at optimum efficiency. This is regarded as a natural progression from processing as it was performed first in data centers and more recently in the cloud. Gartner, a research firm, projected in April 2018 that by 2025, 80 percent of traditional data centers will be shut down, compared to 10 percent at that point.
Edge computing’s uses are many. An example offered by Network World Senior Editor Brandon Butler was that of sensors on an oil rig — how they sift through a mound of data, determine what is most critical (like that which might involve safety issues) and process it in real time. It is, Butler wrote, a form of data triage, which sees the most important information processed immediately, the irrelevant cast aside and the amount of traffic to a central site reduced as a result.
The other example Butler offered was that of telecom companies looking to implement 5G technology — how those businesses can buy or rent space in micro-data centers installed in or near cell towers, affording them unfettered network access.
Edge computing has also come into play in ecommerce, where it allows content to be disseminated and customer data to be collected; renewable energy, where smart meters monitor the efficiency of solar panels and wind farms; entertainment, where mobile edge computing (MEC) provides fans at concerts or sporting events real-time video; and traffic management, where sensors identify road snarls and hazards.
The most dramatic application of edge computing might yet prove to be in driverless cars, in that it allows vehicles to host artificial intelligence, which in turn results in a minimal latency between the gathering of data and using it to run the car — crucial for safety and performance.
Edge computing also figures to play an increasing role in government, where according to nextgov.com it bridges the gap between older machines and modern technology.
The caveat about edge computing involves security. There are those who believe it adds a buffer against hackers, since there is less data being circulated. But there are also those who believe the micro-devices might prove to be more vulnerable to attack.
Assuming that doesn’t emerge as a larger-than-expected issue, edge computing is expected only to grow in prominence over time. And before long, perhaps, a great many of us will be livin’ there.