What is edge computing?
Edge computing is computing that takes place at or near the physical location of either the user or the source of the data. By placing computing services closer to these locations, users benefit from faster, more reliable services while companies benefit from the flexibility of hybrid cloud computing. Edge computing is one way that a company can use and distribute a common pool of resources across a large number of locations.
Why care about edge computing?
One of the real world examples of edge computing is in the use of virtual and augmented reality. Virtual and augmented reality often suffer from insufficient bandwidth and high latency. It’s common for folks using these technologies to experience sickness or lags in the computing power that break the immersiveness of the experience. Edge computing allows the compute-intensive parts of the rendering pipeline to be offloaded to the cloud, preventing these problems from occurring. You could also consider how these same processes are implemented in things like smart cars—imagine if there was latency while your car was processing directional information. You want your car (and other IoT devices) to process data and make decisions as close to real time as possible.
Other benefits of edge computing include the ability to conduct on-site massive data analytics and aggregation, which is what allows for near real time decision making. Edge computing further reduces the risk of exposing sensitive data by keeping all of that computing power local, thereby allowing companies to better control the proliferation of information (like industry trade secrets) or meet regulatory policies (like the GDPR).
Finally, enterprise customers benefit from the resiliency and costs associated with edge computing. By keeping computing power local, regional sites can continue to operate independently from a core site even if something causes your core site to stop operating. The cost of paying for bandwidth to take your data back and forth between your core and regional sites is also greatly reduced by keeping that compute processing power closer to its source.
What are the benefits of edge computing?
Traditionally, cloud computing has focused on centralizing services into a handful of large data centers. Centralizing allowed resources to be highly scalable and shared more efficiently while maintaining control and enterprise security.
Edge computing addresses those use cases that can not be adequately addressed by the centralization approach of cloud computing, often because of networking requirements or other constraints. It focuses on several small computing sites that reduce network cost, avoid bandwidth constraints, reduce transmission delays, limit service failures, and better control the movement of sensitive data. Load times are cut by hundreds of milliseconds and online services deployed closer to users enable both dynamic and static caching capabilities.
For end-users this means a faster, more consistent user experience. For enterprises and service providers this means low-latency, highly available apps with real-time monitoring.
What are the challenges of edge computing?
Edge computing is mainly a problem of highly-distributed scale:
- Scaling out to many small sites can be more complicated than adding the equivalent capacity to a single core datacenter. The increased overhead of physical locations can be difficult for smaller companies to manage.
- Edge computing sites are usually remote with limited or no on-site technical expertise. If something fails on-site you need to have an infrastructure in place that can be fixed easily by non-technical local labor and further managed centrally by a small number of experts located elsewhere.
- Site management operations need to be highly reproducible across all edge computing sites to simplify management, allow for easier troubleshooting and to prevent the configuration of software implemented in slightly different ways at each of the sites (commonly referred to as "configuration drift").
- While edge computing offers greater control over information flows by constraining the data geographically, the physical security of the site is often much lower. This can lead to a greater risk of malicious or accidental situations (like a tripped cable, for instance).