Edge Computing

Every so often, a technological term becomes popular. You hear it everywhere but you aren’t quite sure what it is. Some years ago, cloud computing became the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Just as you began to understand what that was, in came Edge Computing. So, the question is:

What is Edge Computing?

Edge computing (as opposed to cloud computing) is when operations happen at the closest logical location. Often, the most logical and efficient place for the processing of information is locally on a device. Sometimes, it is at the closest data centre. Essentially, Edge Computing is data processing that happens off the network, on the ‘edge’ of the network, and closer to the source of the information. Only when the information has been processed and refined is the data sent to the cloud, if at all. Edge Computing is becoming more and more relevant with the growing popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT).

How does Edge Computing help the Internet of Things?

Reducing latency

The time it takes for you to send a query through your device to the network and for a reply to come back is called latency. Smart devices that are connected to the Internet don’t work at the speed of human thought. They are limited by factors like bandwidth, network speed, and even the distance from the server or the database. The time lag or latency may be almost unnoticeable to us most of the time, but it’s there. This may not affect the performance of the device most of the time. However, in some cases, that latency could potentially be damaging. For example, a self-driving car cannot afford to lose the ability to make split-second decisions because the network is clogged while it’s on the road. Edge Computing allows such devices to compute and make decisions locally, at high speed, without affecting their efficiency.

Enhancing security

As recent news shows, even the most secure databases are not entirely safe. Any information stored in the cloud can be hacked, compromising your users’ details. With Edge Computing, while the device collects a lot of information, only the relevant (and processed) data is sent to the cloud. In certain cases, the device isn’t even connected to a network all the time. This means even if the cloud were compromised, not all of the user’s data would be at risk. Since there is less information being sent to the cloud, it also means that the data cannot be intercepted while being transmitted. That is not to say Edge Computing is free of security issues (just scroll down to the Disadvantages section!) However, this technology does lower the amount of data that might be at risk in the cloud.

Reducing infrastructure needs

Whilst it may not be obvious to your users, using cloud computing requires a massive infrastructure to support it. With Edge Computing, you can reduce the infrastructure needed. Instead of having to expand servers to accommodate all the information, the data is instead stored with the user. This also makes it easier for your company to expand without spending on additional infrastructure. It, of course, also means your clients can enjoy the service without any increase in cost.

Improving reliability

Cloud-based services can be subject to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. A DDoS attack is when the server is flooded with artificial queries jamming up the network so actual users can’t access it. This can be avoided with Edge Computing, giving your users uninterrupted service. Also, as Edge Computing doesn’t have to rely on a steady connection to the Internet or servers, the service provided is not at risk of network failures or a slow connection. This is one of the biggest advantages of Edge Computing. It can be used for operations in remote locations or areas where it is not possible to get a reliable network connection.

What are some real-life uses of Edge Computing?

The speed and dependability of Edge Computing make it ideal for use in several industries, including:

  • Self-driving vehicles
  • Fleet management
  • Traffic management
  • Power management with smart grids & smart meters
  • Safety monitoring in remote oil and gas rigs
  • Smart video orchestration
  • Mobile app data management
  • Stock market trading
  • Gaming

Having said that, it’s not that Edge Computing has no drawbacks. As an emerging technology, it still has a few disadvantages.

What are the disadvantages of Edge Computing?

Security

As strange as it sounds, security is as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage with Edge Computing. One risk with IoT devices is the risk of attack via the data they are collecting. If hacked, it is possible to mislead the device about the data it has collected, leading to ‘bad decisions’. (Think ‘Die Hard 2’, where the plane’s landing system is fooled into believing it was higher than it actually was. Not Edge Computing, but you get the idea.) With this technology, the security of IoT devices becomes important. If it’s not up to scratch, all of the device’s information can be compromised. It can even allow hackers to access the core network. Smart devices that use Edge Computing need to be physically protected as well as protecting the data they contain. If not, they can be tampered with. When connected to the network, IoT devices should ideally be connected via cables wherever possible. When on WiFi, the network should be locked down instead of being open. The devices should be built so that the user can change the default login to a more secure one. Plus, they should have data encryption, firewalls, and intrusion detection and prevention systems. Additionally, with the increase in the IoT, an increasing number of devices are becoming ‘smart’. Unfortunately, currently, there is no standardised security protocol for all of them. This means it’s up to the developers and their discretion to decide how secure your IoT device is. Of course, as this technology grows, the situation may change in the future. As things stand, right now, this remains the biggest disadvantage of Edge Computing.

Incomplete data

As a user, localised information is great. However, as the company operating the service, you may end up losing a lot of user behaviour data. Since the local device decides what data reaches the main information centre, it might mean you don’t get the complete picture of your business operations and how your clients use your service.

More hardware

With Edge Computing, your customers might need more storage on their device, potentially impacting on its size. Considering that computing and storage devices are becoming more and more sophisticated and compact, this might not be a huge usability problem. However, it is a factor to consider when developing an IoT device. In essence, Edge Computing allows you to give your customers a quick and reliable service that is not limited by network or bandwidth issues.