The tech world is getting excited about edge computing. It’s not hard to see why. Edge promises a genuine revolution in business value and consumer experience. And we haven’t yet even begun to scratch the surface of the opportunity.
But first things first: what actually is edge computing?
It’s an approach to IT that pushes data computation much closer to the end user. Often, this will be on the device that’s creating the data being processed, or in a nearby data centre. These edge devices come in every shape and form—think anything from a consumer smartphone to a sensor in a warehouse to a piece of connected machinery on the factory floor.
It’s also helpful to think about edge in the context of the cloud continuum. The footprint of enterprise IT continues to extend across a broader range of infrastructure, from the centralized public cloud at one extreme, through private cloud, on-premises data centres, to the exploding number of individual connected edge devices at the other extreme.
Limitless potential for transforming businesses at speed
Why go to the edge—especially when cloud compute brings such incredible scale, power, and cost-effectiveness? Because there are certain situations where you can’t process data quickly enough in the cloud … or you wouldn’t want to. You may have limited internet connectivity, for example, such as in a remote location or in an industrial setting like an oil rig or a mine. Or you may need to process large volumes of data quickly, such as in the case of video analytics.
Data privacy is another use case. By performing data analytics on edge devices, there’s less need to send personal customer data to the cloud. It therefore gives the user more control over access to their data—a very important consideration for maintaining customer trust.
Then consider situations when you need to act on data faster than your network can handle. Autonomous cars are a good example. The sheer amount of data a self-driving vehicle must process every second—and the absolute criticality of real-time responsiveness—outstrips the latency and bandwidth capacity of existing network connectivity. The vehicle simply can’t wait for the data to make a “round trip” to the cloud and back before deciding what to do. It must therefore be processed within the vehicle itself.
This latency and bandwidth issue is important more generally. Because edge computing bypasses many of the constraints of enterprise network connectivity, the organization can process data near-instantly … and react to the insights generated in something like real time. In the right use cases, edge can therefore be faster, handle more data, and be more efficient than cloud. It can also be more resilient, since it’s less reliant on continuous connection to the internet.
Edge plus 5G: a powerful combination
When 5G cellular connectivity is added to the mix, the possibilities really open up. Take retail. 5G will enable retailers to unlock insights in customer data and use them to engage with shoppers in real-time. This could transform customer experience. Imagine, for example, receiving personalized offers and recommendations directly on your smartphone as you walk around a retail store.
There are other great examples in areas like healthcare. Growing numbers of wearable devices will use edge computing to monitor and alert an individual’s key health indicators. Surgery, too, could be transformed. Ooredoo Qatar, for example, has partnered with Ericsson to perform a remote ultrasound assessment inside a 5G-connected ambulance. It uses a special haptic glove remotely controlled by a doctor with a specially designed joystick.
Then consider how city planners might use 5G and edge to transform public safety, whether that’s giving police officers on the beat instant access to local CCTV footage, or reconfiguring traffic signals to create real-time “green corridors” for ambulances to reach accidents faster.
And what about consumer entertainment? Edge and 5G will be core components of augmented and virtual reality. This will open up new possibilities for immersive interactive entertainment experiences—such as in the metaverse—and multiplayer gaming at scale.
5G is a huge growth area and 5G alone is not enough. The combination of 5G with other converging technologies is accelerating business performance. Companies that invest in 5G networks alongside their cloud and innovation capabilities are expected to grow faster than their competitors.
Wherever you are in your enterprise IT journey today, it’s important to recognise that edge and 5G are going to play a big role in the future continuum of IT and cloud capabilities. When these technologies reach their inflection point, real-time on-device compute will become a standard enterprise capability. And the possibilities for new industrial and consumer use cases will explode.
It’s an exciting future, and smart businesses should start planning for it now.
SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR & CLOUD FIRST LEAD, ATCI, BENGALURU, INDIA
Ajoy is the Cloud First Lead for the Accenture Advanced Technology Center in India (ATCI).
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