Reading Time: 7 minutes

Bring data closer to the edge, just makes so much sense. Cloud computing is wonderful when it works, but is an absolute nightmare when it fails. All of your eggs are in one centralized basket. Edge Computing federates your data over the network fabric and eliminates risk with its distributed architecture. Cloud computing is already dead, it just does not know it yet. Edge Computing is alive, thriving, and vital to our collective futures.

MJ Martin

Edge Computing is the next big thing – it is truly a big deal. Yet, the lack of understanding of the value proposition that Edge Computing brings to the world of telecommunications has me stunned. Whenever I raise the topic of Edge Computing I see the listeners eye’s glaze over and the yawning starts. Why is there no excitement about Edge Computing?

It is a fundamental aspect for Fifth Generation (5G) cellular. It is also what will bring the Internet of Things (IoT) to life.

Okay, I freely admit it. My head is in the clouds. I love Edge Computing. It is all about a federated network that combines the best attributes of centralized and distributed architectures into a single harmonized model. These Edge Computing nodes are akin to ‘baby clouds’. They are ‘cloudlets’. OMG, they are so cute too. But, it is the awesome power to allow people to engage and be fully immersed in a unified hybrid world that is both real and virtualized simultaneously that gets me really excited. Imagine the possibilities.

The world is more connected than ever, and most data is now being generated outside of the data centre. Edge Computing is here to help you speed things up by defining your IoT strategy and bringing compute capabilities wherever you need them – at the edge. Edge Computing will also bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the edge for incredibly fast processing with purpose-built solutions that use high-performance multi-core CPUs and math-mad GPUs combined with your choice of integrated storage and data management. Latency is virtually eliminated as the compute, processing, and storage is now collocated with the source data.

This network federation will power new applications and derive new solutions to make data even more valuable and to solve issues for users instantly. There is little need to ship raw data to the cloud to process it and then return it back to the edge location, often to late to have any meaningful impact or effect.

The time domain is everything. In Edge Computing, data is actually real-time. Real-time means now, right now. Not later or never at all.

Maybe due to the slow implementation, people simply have not yet seen the benefits of Edge Computing so they cannot yet imagine how to use it or why they need it?

Make no mistake, Edge Computing is coming and fast, 5G needs it just to exist. So, when I see all of the enthusiasm for 5G cellular, I am confused and perplexed not to see equal excitement for Edge Computing.

Designed to stretch the limits of technology and meet challenges of harsh environments at edge locations, Edge Computing is enabling the 5G, IoT, and AI revolution. With it will come a whole new wave of technology, benefits, and uses.

The most important benefit of edge computing is its ability to increase network performance by reducing latency. Since IoT Edge Computing devices process data locally or in nearby edge data centres, the information they collect does not have to travel nearly as far as it would under a traditional cloud architecture.

Perhaps we need some examples of how Edge Computing will impact our lives? Here are a few initial ideas to ponder:

  • Medicine – Instant diagnosis of tests in the field. If we used Edge Computing with the COVID tests, perhaps the patient would know the outcome while they are still in front of the tester, in real-time. There is no need to wait for hours, days, or weeks.
  • Manufacturing – dynamic adjustment of assembly lines to speed up, slow down, or address issues for quality control makes Quality Assurance real-time and not an after thought that could be outright missed or forgotten later.
  • Driving – Your autonomous vehicle is fully aware of accidents on the road ahead, adverse road conditions due to weather, traffic congestion ahead thereby rerouting you to faster paths, or pay tolls and parking charges without any delays or human interactions, thereby speeding you to your destination faster, easier, and far more economically. There is no need for a person sitting in the middle of a super highway collecting coins from you as you drive onward.
  • Shopping – Transactions will be immediate. If you need gas for your car, you just drive up and fuel / charge the vehicle, then drive on. The car will identify itself and complete the transaction automatically for you. Or, you can just grab your items in the departments store and then walk away, no need for the ever searching efforts to find an available cashier to pay for an item or automatic pay stations to perform the highly dysfunctional self-serve payment process. It cannot be too soon to get rid of these ridiculous self-serve stations. They are a total failure in customer service and satisfaction.
  • Predictive Maintenance – Manufacturers want to be able to analyze and detect changes in their production lines before a failure occurs. Edge computing helps by bringing the processing and storage of data closer to the line equipment. This enables IoT sensors to monitor machine health with low latencies and perform analytics in real-time.
  • In-hospital patient monitoring – Healthcare contains many Edge Computing opportunities. Currently, monitoring devices (e.g. glucose monitors, BP. oxidization levels, heart rate, and other health tools and other sensors) are either not connected, or where they are, large amounts of unprocessed data from devices would need to be stored on a 3rd party cloud. This presents security concerns for healthcare providers. Edge Computing at the hospital site could process data locally to maintain data privacy. Edge also enables right-time notifications to practitioners of unusual patient trends or behaviours (through analytics/AI), and creation of 360-degree view patient dashboards for full visibility.
  • Cloud gaming – a new kind of gaming which streams a live feed of the game directly to devices, (the game itself is processed and hosted in data centres) is highly dependent on latency. Cloud gaming companies are looking to build edge servers as close to gamers as possible in order to reduce latency and provide a fully responsive and immersive gaming experience.
  • Traffic management – Edge Computing can enable more effective city traffic management. Examples of this include optimizing bus frequency given fluctuations in demand, managing the opening and closing of extra lanes, and, in future, managing autonomous car flows. With edge computing, there is no need to transport large volumes of traffic data to the centralized cloud, thus reducing the cost of bandwidth and latency.
  • Smart homes – Smart homes rely on IoT devices collecting and processing data from around the house. Often this data is sent to a centralized remote server, where it is processed and stored. However, this existing architecture has problems around backhaul cost, latency, and security. By using Edge Compute and bringing the processing and storage closer to the smart home, backhaul and round-trip time is reduced, and sensitive information can be processed at the edge. As an example, the time taken for voice-based assistant devices such as Amazon’s Alexa to respond would be much faster.

These a few simple examples that offer real value to the application of Edge Computing. If you take it all one step further and start to combine applications in new ways, such as smart home with medical monitoring, then the elderly can remain in their homes longer and not be shipped to hospitals or long term care (LTC) facilities. Again, in these challenging COVID times, the LTC facilities are perhaps the last place anyone wants to be these days. If people can remain self-sufficient at home, then that is an ideal outcome – for the patient, for the government, and for the overall health of the population.

————————–MJM ————————–

About the Author:

Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).  He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.