What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is the concept of storing, processing, and analyzing large amounts of data on remote servers or “data centers,” usually online. Data centers are often located remotely where data is processed and collected, resulting in a period between collection and processing or “high delays.” While the lag of time is usually only a few hundred milliseconds, it makes a massive difference to time-sensitive applications such as autonomous vehicles, where real-time data is required to operate seamlessly. In addition, a large amount of data moving up and down the network poses significant difficulties to bandwidth. This can reduce the speed of data processing and transfer. This back-to-back period could mean the difference between life and death in time-sensitive applications such as autonomous vehicles. The answer to this challenge is “edge computing.”
What is edge computing?
Edge computing works directly from the cloud: it moves the storage and analysis of time-sensitive data away from the data center and is close to collecting data. In short, it carries part of the app closer to where the data or end-user is located. It dramatically reduces data flow time and allows processing to happen in real-time, effectively reducing delays to almost zero. This is a blessing for applications that rely on real-time data performance. However, edge computing devices are designed for faster on-site processing, not data storage. Cloud computing, in contrast, is based on fragile infrastructure, so it can expand its storage capacity and processing as needed, making it ideal for time-sensitive applications.
Advantages and challenges of edge computing
- The primary advantage of edge computing is its reduced latency, as it provides more responsive processing of real-time data.
- It also prevents overload of the data center and reduces the strain on bandwidth caused by the transfer of data to and from the center.
- Further, edge devices are less dependent on connectivity, making them more reliable when connectivity is poor.
- Another major advantage is that edge devices are usually used to process data for a specific task, making it more focused and the data processed through them highly individualized.
However, edge computing poses some challenges which can largely be solved by the cloud:
- As more nodes or edge devices are added, managing deployments and monitoring the performance of the software on each node becomes increasingly difficult.
- It is also a challenge to use the edge when easy scalability or access to global data is required. These functions are more suited to cloud computing.
- Another major concern is that edge devices can be more vulnerable to security breaches and attacks than a centralized server. Hence, one has to be mindful while building an edge computing application, paying special attention to the security aspect.
How should businesses take edge computing ahead?
Use the edge and cloud smartly
A critical aspect to keep in mind is that edge computing generally doesn’t work alone. It needs to be complemented with data storage on the cloud. Time-sensitive data is better processed through the edge, but most other applications still require the cloud.
Reduce versioning whenever possible
Limit the number of deployments in edge computing infrastructures. As the number of nodes increase, software management becomes more challenging, and it is much easier if all the nodes run on the same hardware, software, and firmware configurations. While this is not always possible, it is useful to keep in mind that the lesser the variables involved, the easier it is to manage the software.
Be careful about security
As mentioned above, edge devices can be more vulnerable to threats than the data centers used in cloud computing. Hence, special care needs to be taken while designing the security system for such applications. Some possible measures include data encryption and access control. A business also needs to create an effective authentication mechanism and ensure that access is given to only authorized devices.
The edge is not magic
Edge computing is being touted as a big game changer and something completely new. However, this is not the case. It is just a new way of performing actions similar to what we have been doing since before the cloud came into being. It is just a different way of thinking about what we call a “mobile application” or a “point of sale” device.
Edge computing, while a great way to process time-sensitive data in real-time, does not replace the cloud by any means. They complement each other and improve their effectiveness as well as the efficiency of applications when used together in a judicious manner. Cloud computing still remains one of the most optimal ways to store large amounts of data as well as process less time-sensitive information. Edge computing, with its faster data processing, is increasing in popularity due to its application in several IoT use cases.