Have you felt it? The revolutionary shift in how we live, work, and connect.
AI-driven manufacturing. Autonomous vehicles. Tele-Medicine. Smart refrigerators! In nearly every aspect of life, we find Edge Computing leading that revolution.
Yet, living life at computing’s Edge is not a guarantee of success. Many factors — some unexpected and not directly related to technology — influence our daily lives, both at work and at home.
We’ve covered the top reasons you should care about Edge Computing and how manufacturing automation relies on Edge Computing. Before we dive into the top 5 factors influencing the success of Edge Computing, let us review some Edge basics.
A Brief Review of Edge Computing
So, what exactly is Edge Computing? What is it used for? At what rate is it growing? How can businesses use it to succeed long-term?
The industrial sector developed the original need for Edge Computing. In order to remain competitive, manufacturers began using data-heavy technologies, such as sensors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), to increase output, improve product quality, and lower costs.
Bringing computing closer to the source of data — actual physical proximity — is not a new concept, although it has gained momentum in the past decade or so. Why? Because there is a convergence happening: end users, application creators, hardware manufacturers, sensor manufacturers … they are together using Edge Computing to help manage data, improve connectivity, and make informed, real-time decisions. It is a union of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
The Internet of Things (IoT) as a whole is expected to double between 2019 and 2024, which is driving the growth of Edge computing, now at 35% annually.1
Edge computing has gone far beyond industrial needs. Everything from WiFi-enabled window blinds to smart refrigerators to an Alexa in every room are filling homes, and with them come data demands and the challenge of managing it all. Everyone loves “user-friendly” devices, but is our reliance on technology getting out of hand? And what can we learn from all the experiences, applications, software and hardware already deployed at The Edge?
Factor #1: Runaway Technology
“Give me convenience or give me death.” Okay, not exactly what Patrick Henry said in 1775, but modern Americans may indeed value convenience a bit more than liberty, which is somewhat disturbing.
Do I really need every package delivered the same day? In 24 hours? Is it that important to adjust my Venetian blinds while I’m on the beach 1,000 miles away? Do I need to discuss water temperature with my faucet? Or help remember if I closed the garage door before I headed out to that beach.
Many advancements that we thought were the bee’s knees when introduced (I’m looking at you, multi-disc CD player) are now relics. “Runaway technology” is most often driven by humans’ desire for convenience, but it can also be the force for more significant change.
Keep in mind – some of these conveniences are critical – from a life safety perspective. Certainly for personal and property security. But do we need everything connected?
Factor #2: New Applications
Instead of seeing Edge Computing as simply adding convenience, it may be wise to look at Edge as improving quality of life. Here are three examples: Robot-assisted technology that makes delicate surgeries easier. An autonomous vehicle that removes physical risks to a human driver. An exoskeleton that enables someone with a spinal injury to walk.
Real improvements — life-changing applications — are enabled by IoT at a pace much more rapidly than ever before. New applications are being driven by progressive evolution. We just need to use Edge Computing wisely to maximize the benefits.
Whereas the industrial market inspired the Edge decades ago, new applications are skyrocketing the use of Edge Computing today. Take logistics for example: automated warehousing, autonomous devices, time-in-transit monitoring, etc. all require an incredible amount of data (and that is only one example). Edge Computing is the best option for handling all this critical data.
Factor #3: Availability
More and more people are gaining equal access to Edge applications and capabilities. Content delivery networks (CDN) allow nearly anybody to take advantage of what Edge offers — in our everyday lives (a smart refrigerator) and in our work lives (a sensor on the factory floor). And let’s not forget being able to stream every form of entertainment – all praise of `The Binge’.
The playing field has nearly been leveled across industries and around the globe. However, full equality of availability is being prevented by a “digital divide” (see below).
Overcoming the Digital Divide
A function as basic as providing clean water to some areas of the world is enhanced using Edge computing. Of course, not every place on Earth has the infrastructure to take advantage of Edge computing. It is incumbent upon countries with the technical resources to help others spark cultural and social change
Factor #4: Proximity
A “local” network now is actually hyper-local, as in directly next to data-driving devices. Edge Computing puts technology physically close to devices, optimizing the ability to handle various critical issues (reliability, latency, security, etc.) and control work schedules/flow.
Getting products to market faster than the competition is often a main priority. Edge computing’s close proximity enables quick development cycles for new applications, minimizing the time to market.
This is a good time to mention the role Edge plays in manufacturing automation. Wise use of nearby data (provided by Edge computing) allows manufacturers to implement automation processes. And these days, is there anything that cannot be automated? Boston Dynamics has robots performing parkour! That is a glaring example of how Edge Computing makes processes more seamless.
Factor #5: Security
A bigger picture challenge of Edge Computing is security. More internet-enabled devices means more entry-points into a network. Hackers look for unprotected networks first, and with so many potential targets available, it is just a matter of time before weak networks are cyber attacked.
The rush to the Edge — new applications, new services, new technology — is happening so rapidly that missteps in security are bound to result. Moving forward, it is going to be more challenging to enjoy the successes of Edge Computing while staying safe.
Similarly, the capabilities of Edge Computing raise privacy concerns. We know that cell phones are tracking us, our cars are relaying data to apps, SiriusXM satellite radio service knows where we are at every minute. So, we all have a choice to make: select which technologies to take advantage of knowing their functionality is likely tied to a reduction of privacy.
While these 5 may not be the only factors influencing the success of Edge Computing, they are the most relevant for most of us. As new technologies are implemented on an ongoing basis, we must all decide if we will take advantage of these new opportunities or not. No matter how we react, Edge Computing will be there.
Now, take a look at actual Edge computing deployments. Watch our webinar: Edge Deployment Use Cases: Success Stories & Lessons Learned.
1 Boston Consulting Group, The Battle at Computing’s Edge, March 15, 2021