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Cloud & Edge … it takes two to tango

Milind Dikshit

This article was originally published in Express Computer and has been reproduced here with permission.

We are well and truly in the Cloud era. Enterprises are fast moving to the Cloud, while individuals are using their mobile devices and PCs to access Gmail, M-365, WordPress and Google D on the Cloud. And home appliances like smart TV and voice assistants are nurtured and controlled by content and algorithms on the Cloud.

When it comes to centralized computing, the Cloud has us covered like never before! However, Cloud by itself isn’t the answer to finding solutions to some of the problems that need real-time processing. The future of Cloud is in its symbiotic partnership with the Edge.

So, what is Edge computing, and why is it gaining currency? It can be defined as computing done at or near the source of data instead of relying on Cloud or datacenters to do the heavy lifting, thereby allowing near-real-time and secure processing of data.

Factors driving Edge computing

The Edge could be the boundary of the operator network, enterprise premises, our homes, moving vehicles or even our mobile devices and home appliances. Per IDC, worldwide edge computing market is expected to reach over $250 billion in 2024, with the Edge internet economy is expected to be worth more than $4 trillion globally by 2030.

The exponential growth in IoT devices and demand for applications that need real-time processing, along with the need for enhanced user experience make a compelling case for Edge computing. While the early goal of Edge computing was to reduce bandwidth costs, it is the rise of applications requiring near-real-time processing that is driving Edge technology ahead. Additionally, techniques like offline-enabled mobile apps allow local processing and optimize the data flowing through internet pipes.

Take the mobile phone, for example. It’s highly possible that the mobile phone could soon evolve from being an access device to a full-fledged compute and storage device, maybe even with AI chips.

Preserving privacy and trust is another driver of Edge, but also a concern. For privacy, most mobile phones today encrypt the data and biometric information on the device instead of the Cloud. The Cloud, however, plays a significant role in updating new versions of OS and security policies that are automated through intelligent scheduling by Android and iOS.

The rapid adoption of 5G is indeed a key catalyst for growth of Edge.

Range of Edge computing across industry

Edge computing is becoming all pervasive given its wide applications across complex scenarios. To illustrate a few:

  • Instant analytics for healthcare. The penetration of portable healthcare devices, mobility and internet access has enabled telemedicine platforms to link the population with medical practitioners. As Covid-19 hastens the need for growth of telemedicine, there is great progress in providing precision remote care using diagnostic information processed at the Edge while validating with historical information and bigger patterns analyzed in the Cloud.
  • Smart farming. Smart farming techniques with Cloud and Edge, particularly leveraging IoT devices, shows how multi-variate data (about soil condition, weather, planting, fertilizers and yield records) have to be constantly collected and analyzed to apply intelligent decisioning and timely interventions to maximize yield. These technologies are key to meet the food demand for the expected 9.8 billion global population by 2050.
  • Intelligent manufacturing. The intelligent or smart manufacturing sector is expected to grow at 12 percent for the next few years, facilitated by increased adoption of robotics, IoT and 5G along with Cloud. There is significant progress in automation using Edge devices that help in improving real-time performance and asset efficiency along with reduced machine downtime.
  • Enhanced CX in banking services. This is a great example of how Cloud and Edge technologies complement each other efficiently, managing customer transaction flow across multiple channels. Time-sensitive and security-related customer data is processed at the Edge, with more detailed analytics drawn up via minimal data transfer to the Cloud.
  • Improving user experience in gaming applications. Next-gen technologies and Covid-19 impact has seen renewed interest in gaming. The industry, which is set to exceed $200 billion by 2023 as per Newzoo, is now powered by the Cloud and Edge. Gaming devices have powerful Edge processers to eliminate even millisecond latency. Coming at affordable hardware costs, this has increased adoption and more immersive gaming experience, even enabling more sophisticated AR/VR experience.

Cloud and Edge – complementary and not combative

Edge computing has much to offer; however, like most technologies there could a blind spot. Like CIOs today worry about how much of the enterprise will end up being controlled by the big Cloud providers, individuals probably will think how much of our lives will be controlled by the best of the Edge solution providers. And what if the Cloud and Edge providers are the same?

Does the emergence of Edge mean that the Cloud drifts away? In reality, no! One could look at Edge as the Cloud coming closer, aka “Cloud coming soon to a theater near you.” It’s therefore not a toss-up between the two. In fact, Cloud and Edge as a powerful combination open a whole new world of exciting possibilities – accelerating the maturity of Industry 4.0!