Processing data closer to the location where it’s needed will improve response times and save bandwidth – but the question remains whether the technology will cause a seismic shift for businesses like cloud computing has.
When Keerti Melkote, the CEO of Aruba Networks, suggested to delegates at Aruba Networks’ Atmosphere EMEA 2019 conference in Croatia that edge computing would make more of an impact on businesses than cloud computing, it was a bold statement.
But the words of Melkote should be taken seriously. After all, HPE acquired his company for $3bn, and kept him on as the CEO, enabling him to run Aruba almost as a standalone entity. But at the same time, Aruba Networks, like many other companies are touting edge computing as the next big thing, as they have the technologies to compete in this new arena.
The list of companies in this space continues to grow, with tech giants like Microsoft, Cisco and Amazon joined by the likes of Schneider, Rigado and FogHorn.
Analyst firm Gartner is a firm believer of the technology too; in its report, The Edge Completes The Cloud, it predicted that the technology would be a necessary requirement for all digital businesses by 2022 and that by 2022, over 50 per cent of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed at the edge. That is, outside the cloud or a central data centre.
Melkote makes an important point – that while everyone has been focused on shifting to the cloud, it has meant that there is still a centralised environment; the cloud is still a data centre – just someone else’s. To get to a point where businesses can actually provide real-time experiences that we’ve been hearing about from the data science and analytics world, rather than mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices having to send data back to the cloud in order to react, the idea of the edge is for devices to be able to analyse and process data where the device is. What this means is that experiences are likely to be far more slick, and more in ‘real-time’ than anything we’ve seen before.
The most widely used example is of autonomous cars or drones – where the controls and intelligence are inside the device itself, enabling it to change course depending on existing traffic or weather conditions. But there are other examples: edge computing would enable a video camera to detect objects in a factory or assembly line to ensure that the output is correct. In oil and gas, a pump that malfunctions could stop oil from being pumped out – edge computing can help companies to monitor the pump and dispatch maintenance or even self-repair, preventing downtime and disruption to their businesses.
Melkote says there are two main types of edge computing use cases.
“There is an experience outcome, where you’re doing something to improve the human experience, whether it’s for employees, customers or fans, which then results in better business. The other dimension is around data and analytics, so gathering more data about your business in the pure machine world, such as factories, gas refineries and agriculture farms,” he says.
“In some instances, both of these use cases could come together as one. So far that hasn’t happened,” he adds.
A 2018 Couchbase study, which surveyed 450 IT directors found that edge computing had reached only 14 per cent of enterprises so far, with only 10% stating they expected to deploy these technologies in the next six months and 31% within the next five.
But while the numbers are still relatively low – there is genuine excitement from IT decision makers.
Speaking at Aruba Atmosphere EMEA 2019, Michael Cole, the CTO of the Ryder Cup, explains that it’s a no brainer for the organisation to embrace edge computing, as it has to build towns in just a few days for each of its 46 tournaments in 30 different countries.
“When you’re dealing with over a quarter of a million spectators on sites, the only way you can create your data sources and turn that data source into insightful intelligence is by processing those data sources at the edge – it’s critical for our world as we can’t have latency delays, we need real-time intelligence,” he says.
The aim is to use edge infrastructure to gain a better understanding of fans and their behaviour. The Ryder Cup team will be able to track the crowds as they move across the course, and use this insight to improve operational delivery, but also provide this information to sponsors so that they can better convert spectators into customers.
Swedish construction company NCC currently uses Aruba AP-275’s on its drills to collect data wirelessly from a tunnel. But Anders Eklind, manager of IT communications at the company, believes that in the next few years it will be to process this data in the edge, meaning that the data could be analysed in real-time from the device itself.
Meanwhile, in a university setting, Malcolm Whitehouse, the CIO of the University of Manchester, explains that edge computing could help researchers in their experiments as they wouldn’t have to always be present during an experiment as devices would automatically be able to analyse and process data without the need for manual input. In addition, they could help students to monitor in real-time how crowded library areas are.
Attendance is another area where edge computing could play its part.
“We’re obliged to track attendance for non-EU nationals on a student visa. We have to ensure and prove that they’re actually studying – so what we’re looking at being able to use devices to identify who’s coming to lectures,” he says, adding that the ethical implications need to be taken on board too.
It’s clear that the number and variety of use cases for edge computing are likely to grow. Research commissioned by Aruba and conducted by Fast Future, included a survey of 200 business and technology ‘future thinkers’. It found that the main impact respondents thought edge computing would have in the next three to five years would be around personalised service delivery and deeper customer insight. Respondents suggested that AI, machine learning and IoT were the most important over the same time period in being able to successfully deliver edge experiences. Meanwhile, when asked which business models could emerge as a result of edge technologies over the next three to five years, the top selected choices were payments using biometric data, commercial exploitation of customer data accumulated via the IoT, and hyper-personalised instant offers.
One of the main stumbling blocks for CIOs is to get everyone on-board with edge computing – and to operate in a way which integrates the technology into an overarching strategy. In fact, after ‘addressing security challenges of distributed processing’, and ‘improving and enhancing organisational digital literacy’, respondents picked ‘changing the IT mindset to embrace the concept of edge experiences’ as the highest critical success factor for the IT function to ensure the successful deployment of edge solutions over the next three to five years. Edge computing is definitely being hyped, but there is substance to the technology, now it’s time for IT professionals to change their mindset to accommodate it.
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