The traditional IT infrastructure has evolved from a single, central data center to a connected constellation of services and devices. Those services are all dispersed across multiple cloud providers and platforms. However, this distribution of resources often faces one major obstacle: latency. Fortunately, edge computing is an infrastructure model aimed at boosting performance and reducing latency across widely distributed networks. We examine how edge computing is influencing digital infrastructure in 2021.
An edge computing overview
Edge computing is a model where information processing (data and computing) is physically located close to the things and people that produce or consume them.
Depending on the use case, an edge deployment may be anything from equipment in a colocation data center, a computer closet in a branch office, or an edge-configured virtual machine at a local cloud provider.
Before we discuss how edge computing is used by enterprises, here are the top five examples of industries innovating with edge computing:
- Transportation, logistics, and autonomous vehicles (and self-driving cars)
- Media and entertainment
This list will likely grow, however. Any organization that holds virtual meetings, has remote workers with virtual desktop software, or runs performance-heavy applications, like Artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and business analytics over a network will benefit from an edge deployment.
Additionally, Internet-of-things (IoT) devices, such as environmental monitors, factory floor robotics, or intelligent traffic controllers, will also need the localized processing capabilities and real-time communication that edge computing provides.
How enterprises use edge computing
Edge computing brings performance boosts and cuts costs for a range of current and future use cases. Some of the most common examples include:
Cloud computing was the first step toward a “work anywhere” model. However, remote users encountered slow and unpredictable bandwidth. By leveraging edge resources businesses can potentially improve application performance and overall user experiences for remote workers.
Tracking equipment and assets
Many industries including manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas maintain expensive equipment in the field or on factory floors. They must keep track of the equipment’s location, condition, and current usage. Maintaining an up-to-date record depends on rapid communication.
Predictive equipment maintenance
Likewise, equipment and machinery need to be kept in working condition. An unexpected failure can cost a company lost productivity and, potentially, the failure to meet key deadlines.
Monitors can send an alert if a part is wearing out faster than expected or when the equipment needs a tune-up. By locating edge computing resources near the equipment, companies can have real-time updates on equipment performance.
Hospitals are increasingly using monitors and other smart devices to ensure the well-being of patients. Medical equipment and patient monitors are constantly producing alerts and data that must be analyzed for a quick response and, later, stored. An edge server can process patient data quickly and, because the data stays within the hospital network, without risking a breach of HIPAA regulations.
Staying compliant with regulations
Companies that must comply with regional and international consumer data regulations can leverage edge computing to ensure that sensitive consumer data stays within national or state borders. By keeping data in edge servers in the geographic locations of their customers, they can better comply with local data privacy and data sovereignty laws.
New infrastructure technologies support the edge
Edge computing isn’t a standalone technology. Besides the cloud, two other important technologies that support the growth of edge development are software-defined infrastructure and hyperconverged infrastructure.
Software-defined infrastructure (SDI)
Software-defined infrastructure (SDI) is a composable architecture that allows developers to define IT infrastructure resources (storage, compute, networking, and other resources) using a software abstraction layer. With SDI, a developer can break down resources into individual edge computing resources, located where they are needed most, and reallocate them as workloads and other needs change.
SDI provides greater flexibility than fixed or static hardware-based resources, which must be physically replaced as needs change. Allocating resources using SDI can be done in minutes as compared to the days or weeks required with a traditional hardware procurement cycle.
Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI)
Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a related software-based architecture that tightly integrates IT infrastructure resources (storage, compute, networking, virtualization, etc.) into a single plug-and-play appliance or software stack. A single HCI instance might serve as an edge “data center” or be clustered with other HCI instances. HCI can take advantage of software-defined infrastructure and can have its configuration automated and managed remotely
How your digital infrastructure can gain edge computing benefits
Most edge deployments require customization due to the unique needs of different businesses. While there are many edge solutions coming onto the market, they must still be customized to fit different use cases. Customization requires substantial experience in cloud services, SDI, and networking. As IDC notes in its Spotlight, even small modifications to an edge compute stack may significantly change its ability to serve a particular use case.
A collaboration with an experienced cloud provider, hosting company, or professional service provider can supply the expertise to ensure a successful edge deployment. In addition, outside partners can provide physical support such as regional data centers, colocation facilities, and links to major cloud platform providers.
Cloud service providers with edge data center experience, like TierPoint, can help with edge planning and deployment as well as with the overall modernization of your digital infrastructure.