Tech Odyssey: What is Edge Computing?

Technology trends often feel like a constant chess match – except where the rules change and new players rise to the top daily. A recent rookie has emerged with promise: edge computing. Yet, amidst the buzz, it’s crucial to discern substance from hype, unraveling the real-world applications that lie beneath the surface.

In the realm of innovation, the Gartner Hype Cycle guides us through the cycle of overinflated expectations to the sobering reality. It’s a journey we’ve witnessed before with the rise of AI, where the true potential lies somewhere in the middle of “useless” and “earth-shattering.”

As we delve into the intricacies of edge computing, we aim to cut through the noise. Is this the latest sensation for CTOs to marvel at, or does it bring tangible value to the tech ecosystem? Let’s explore the simple truths, practical applications, and the inherent advantages and drawbacks associated with edge computing.

Breaking through the border. What is edge computing?

Let’s start with the concept of of decentralization – whether it’s being used to protect financial authority for individuals instead of major banks, as is often the selling point with cryptocurrency (along with anonymity) – or it’s being used to create a massive peer-to-peer network like we saw in Pied Piper – the concept has merit. 

In the case of edge computing, we’re examining where data is stored, how it is accessed, and how it is processed to make decisions. Edge computing relies on decentralized data use, where instead of data being accessed from a single data bank or server, it uses a number of data sources that are ideally near whatever service is utilizing said data.

This is why it’s called edge computing – the data is stored on the edge of whatever real world function would have use for it.  

Real world applications and edge computing examples

The entire premise of edge computing is transitioning data from a central server to a number of points near whatever app needs to access it. With data stored locally, it’s easier to access, requires less bandwidth, and rarely encounters latency issues. 

Put another way, imagine a network of mini data-processing hubs scattered throughout a city, each capable of making smart decisions independently. Instead of relying on a distant, centralized brain (like we see in cloud computing) to analyze information and send back instructions, these hubs handle everything locally.  

This results in faster responses to changes, like traffic lights adjusting in real-time to traffic conditions, or security systems acting instantly to unauthorized access.  More often than not, this kind of technology is most interesting to the CTO who cares about reducing delays and improving the quality of data processing to make faster, more accurate decisions.  

Innovative interplay: edge computing vs. cloud computing

While edge computing involves a series of data hubs locally connected and near their source of function, cloud computing often involves a central data bank that is often not physically close to whoever is accessing the data.  At first glance, it could seem like edge has a real advantage over cloud computing. And in a perfect world with endless access to resources, that would likely be the case.

But in a world of budgets and allocation of resources – using a central hub for data is often cheaper and more manageable than the system needed for edge computing to function. Add to that, cases where real time processing isn’t as meaningful or where latency is not as competitive an advantage in a particular market, and edge loses its appeal.  

Still, even if edge computing functionally makes more sense, building a network that relies on it means significant infrastructure.  Not only does this involve a potentially sizable investment, but also companies utilizing edge computing must also have the means of both managing and servicing key linchpins in the network.  

Physically, this becomes a bit more complicated than banishing the intern to the basement sending a tech to the server room. And worse, companies that use this kind of technology are at the mercy of the local municipalities in which they operate. While some local governments may be making meaningful investments in their infrastructure and technology, a significant number still use aging systems. So, even CTOs deeply convinced on the usefulness of edge computing may be limited by factors outside their control.


In Brief:

As we cautiously navigate the Gartner Hype Cycle, edge computing demands thoughtful consideration. While not a panacea, it holds promise for those willing to acknowledge its limitations. With major players like Amazon investing heavily, the digital future is increasingly intertwined with operating on the edge.

As AI, IoT, and various technologies converge, operating on the edge presents an unprecedented opportunity for efficiency, agile decision-making, and real-time customer data. Its maturation may bring forth a new era of business advantages, provided CTOs balance present circumstances with long-term organizational goals. In the intricate dance between technology and industry, edge computing stands as a potential game-changer, waiting to be harnessed effectively in the competitive marketplace.

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Blake Binns

Blake is a marketer and consultant based in Northwest Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart. He is a fan of all things digital and hosts the Good Advice Podcast. He lives with his wife of 10 years, Joy, and together has two kids, Blake and Maylee.

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