Edge Computing is a distributed computing framework choosen for improving response times, reducing bandwidth requirements, and processing data closer to its creation and consumption. Many new usecases and scenarios are emerging thanks to new developments like IoT, AI, and 5G where using cloud computing solutions is not enough.
In this article, we will understand the concept of Edge Computing, its various usecases, and the top providers of edge computing solutions. We will see how Edge Computing is distinct from traditional on-premise computing and cloud computing. What are the essential needs that require the application of Edge Computing?
What is Edge Computing? How is it different from Cloud Computing and Traditional Computing?
Let us understand the concept of Edge Computing logically with simple explanations of related concepts and how they fit together.
In the fields of Computer Networks and Distributed Computing, there is a term we call as "Edge of the Network" or "Network Edge". We use it to talk about the area in the network where a local device or local network connects with the larger Internet. It is the set of entry points for the Internet into the local network. And by corollary, it is the set of exit points for all devices located inside the local network.
The network edge represents a crucial boundary for the local administrators. This is the edge or border of the computer network that they can control directly. So, the local network admins can do the security, maintenance, and monitoring only for the devices within this boundary. Anything beyond this is like wild west that is under the rule, control or management of others.
Any kind of devices that we place at the network edge are "Edge Devices". Typically, these are networking devices like routers, modems, routing switches, multiplexers, and integrated access devices. We can also include any Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) access devices. However, the scope of edge devices is not limited to simply networking devices.
We can also keep any kind of computing, storage, and electronic device on the edge of the network. This will help all other local devices to share and utilize the computing, data storage, and other services that these devices can offer. Thus, it can be a cost-effective and localized solution to improve the capabilities of our entire local network, in an organization, institution or company.
However, this resource-sharing aspect is true for any device in the network, not just for edge devices. There is a crucial distinction between any local device and an edge device. A local device need not be connected to the Internet. It can be set to receive signals and commands only from within the local network. Whereas an edge device is expected to interface with both the local network as well as the Internet (or the Cloud or other remotely located devices and networks).
A Brief Look at Computing Paradigms
Let us understand Edge Computing by looking at the evolution of different computing paradigms.
Early Computing involved bulky machines that filled entire rooms. Computer monitors or stations called terminals were simply a way to access and use these room-sized computers.
Gradually over time, transistors, the building blocks of modern computers, underwent miniaturization. It became possible to bundle together computing, storage, and networking capabilities into desk-sized machines. This is how Personal Computing started trending, and became ubiquitous in most offices and homes.
Larger organizations have larger needs that Personal Computing devices alone cannot fulfill. This led to solutions like On-Premise Data Centers and Local Servers in offices. We can call this Traditional Computing (to contrast it with Cloud Computing).
With Apple iPhone and Android, we got mobile phones with computing capabilities. Smartphones and tablets turned the domain of cellphones with basic mobile telephony into Mobile Computing. This grew even faster than Personal Computing revolution, as smartphones are much cheaper and therefore affordable to a larger market. This brought computing to almost every pocket and at everyone's fingertips.
The Case for Cloud Computing
Even today, most organizations still prefer Traditional Computing solutions like local servers, local networks, and local data centers. This helps them secure their trade secrets, proprietary algorithms, confidential data etc. However, it has the downsides of maintenance costs. Scalability is slow and costly, both while upscaling and downscaling. Having dedicated staff to look after infrastructure has its overheads.
Parallel to these disadvantages of Traditional Computing, we also got the phenomenon of giant tech companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Since they had to operate at such a large scale, they had to find solutions that optimized their spending and computing needs. They gradually became really good at taking care of their own computing needs with their custom-built machines and datacenters.
Economies of scale gave them the advantage that it was relatively much cheaper for them to add more computational, storage, and networking power. A new revenue stream became available by simply scaling up these operations further, and offering these computational resources on lease to anyone via the Internet, or the Cloud.
And this solution of leasing compute power as required proved to be a cost-effective and flexible option to other smaller companies. Cloud Computing is a boon especially for startups, who can simply focus their budget and efforts on their product and code, and leave the infrastructure worries to their cloud providers.
Why do we need Edge Computing when we have Cloud Computing?
Organizations can use a mix of both Cloud Computing and On-Premise Datacenters to solve their problems. They can balance their privacy, security, and budget needs by choosing between these two options as they deem fit in each usecase. There are plenty of product and service providers for both cloud computing and on-premise data centers. A good competitive market ensures that costs are reasonable and good quality is easy to find.
The deployment of on-premise computing solutions is local, while Cloud Computing resources could be located anywhere in the world, and are offered via the Internet. Their commonality is that we use them for medium, large, and huge scale solutions. They have both evolved to solve the needs of organizations upto 2010s. There is some uniformity and standardization in place, both technically and in terms of expectations in the minds of professionals.
But both these computing paradigms are rendered inadequate by advances like Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The quantity and variety of consumer and industrial products that have aspects of IoT and AI is growing exponentially. And for a number of reasons that we will see next, applying On-premise or Cloud solutions to IoT and AI often isn't a viable choice. This is where Edge Computing comes in. It does not replace either Traditional On-premise Computing or Cloud Computing.
Edge Computing exists to do the kind of varied and unique tasks that neither of the two can do, because they were never designed to do that. It is an additional tool in your arsenal as you execute your projects. Sometimes, Edge Computing is also called Fog Computing, because it is closer to the "ground" like fog, while clouds are something far away and distant.
Edge Computing is a new paradigm in distributed computing which seeks to decrease the dependency on Cloud Computing. And while it is local, it is distinct from On-premise Data Centers because it involves new and unique usecases, often at tiny, small or medium scales.
The Top 5 Essential Needs that Edge Computing Solves
Looking at it in general terms, these are the top 5 needs why anyone will choose Edge Computing in their projects:
- Real-time, Low Latency data processing needs. Immediate solutions are required.
- High Volume of Raw Data such that it is impractical to keep sending so much raw data to the Cloud.
- Poor or Spotty Internet Connectivity; for a number of reasons, whether remote location, congested urban area, or a high-level security facility facing DDOS attacks, etc.
- Keeping Data and Processing Local: Data cannot be allowed to live on Cloud, and has to be kept on premise, whether for privacy, security, regulation or compliance reasons.
- Seamless: Edge Devices can seamlessly connect to both local networks and the Internet. So data processing is predominantly local, while maintenance, monitoring, updates and management of edge computing facilities can be done remotely.
Thus, Edge Computing bridges the gaps between Traditional and Cloud Computing, and solves many new problems that cannot be tackled using old paradigms.
Why will Edge Computing be a Top Tech Trend in the 2020s and beyond?
Consider these estimates for the state of our world due to Internet of Things,
- The number of IoT devices is predicted to be anywhere between 30-75 Billion in 2025.
- Together, they will generate almost 80 zettabytes of data in 2025 (one zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes).
While Edge Computing cannot entirely replace Cloud Computing, it will take on a increasingly larger share in the market. This is because the need for "intelligence" at a local, device-level is increasing as innumerable new applications are being found for AI and IoT tech. These devices collect a lot of data and require real-time feedback to keep operating safely and accurately. It is infeasible to relay all that raw data to the cloud, get it analyzed, and then wait to receive the decision signals back. Both the volume of raw data being generated, and the requirement for low-latency, real-time feedback, make the case for Edge Computing over Cloud Computing.
Think of Edge Computing as a thin intelligence layer that can take many forms, and can be spread throughout the planet. It is geographically located much closer to the devices and local networks where the action is happening, unlike Cloud Computing. Edge Computing might be on-device, such as a self-driving car with on-board AI algorithms processing the high volumes of data coming from various sensors and cameras. Or its deployment can happen on the edge of the network, such as a micro data-center to communicate with the network of sensors and actuators on a farm, greenhouse, or research facility.
What are some Popular Applications and Usecases where Edge Computing is Essential?
The use of sensors and real-time AI processing will keep rising due to these kind of scenarios:
- Smart Cities with intelligent surveillance, traffic management, preemptive resource allocation, and timely response in critical situations.
- Self-Driving Cars that cannot afford to wait for Cloud response for critical real-time feedback.
- Retail Stores and Hotels with Self-Checkouts and No Checkouts.
- Vertical and Indoor Farms with Hydroponics & Aeroponics.
- CCTV systems that want to increase efficiency by using motion-detection and other AI methods to filter only the abnormal or interesting events.
- Home Automation and Personal Assistants like Nest Thermostat, Smart Speakers, Smart Doorbells, etc.
- Autonomous Delivery Drones and Terrestrial Robots moving through traffic and/or areas with low cellular/Internet connectivity.
- Industrial IoT applications in factories, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, supply chain management, etc.
- Patient Monitoring Systems in hospitals that need to collect and process data from various devices and sensors, and build a consolidated, updated report.
- Content Caching and CDNs are actually one of the earliest examples of Edge-like solutions. Streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, Pandora use these geographical caching techniques that are closer to the users, reducing latency and improving their quality of service.
- Even as 5G, 6G and next gen cellular networks proliferate, offering higher bandwidths and lower latencies, they only inspire more Edge Computing usage. This is because as developers and creators envision more ambitious projects that take advantage of 5G bandwidths and speeds, they quickly overwhelm and exceed the capacities of cellular networks and clouds. Physics itself limits us ultimately, as the speed of light is 3,00,000 km/s. We can never transmit data faster than that. Hence, local, on-the-network-edge deployment of intelligence. processing, and storage will keep Edge Computing trending.
This is why, we will see the deployment of Edge Computing more and more, and it will interface with both Traditional and Cloud Computing services as well, to provide a high quality of service.
Top 20 Edge Computing Platforms and Solution Providers
- Adlink Edge IoT
- Affirmed Cloud Edge
- Alef Edge
- AWS Edge
- Eclipse ioFog
- Eurotech Edge Software
- Equinix Edge
- Google Distributed Cloud Edge
- HPE Intelligent Edge
- IBM Edge Computing
- Infiot ZETO
- Intel Edge Technology and Solutions
- Microsoft Azure Stack Edge and IoT Edge
- Mutable Public Edge Cloud
- Schneider Electric Edge Computing Solutions
- Section.io Edge Compute Platform
- Vapor IO Kinetic Grid
Brief summaries of every Edge Computing provider:
- ADLINK brings modular edge hardware and software solutions using open standards and architecture. This ensures that you can use their products and services with those of other leading vendors who offer hardware, software, and Cloud solutions.
- Adlink has built their Edge IoT Software Platform upon their Data River model. It can unify datastreams from a variety of sources.
- ADlink Edge Hardware comes pre-installed with the Adlink Edge IoT Software Platform. This makes it possible for you to integrate all your hardware and software systems quite easily with no-code and low-code interventions.
- Adlink Edge includes the Adlink Marketplace which has an ecosystem of connector apps. It also has an open SDK that allows third-party developers to develop new apps.
- Thus, you can bring AI power to your Edge, by using Adlink Hardware and Software, along with other AI, IoT, and Cloud solutions from different vendors.
- Affirmed Cloud Edge offers solutions especially for mobile network operators and communication services providers.
- Affirmed Cloud Edge provides Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) solutions to host applications, keep data local, and integrate with other Cloud Edge offerings from Google, Amazon, Azure etc.
- With Low Latency, Improved Bandwidth Efficiency and Localized Content Delivery, it enables high resolution and heavy bandwidth content transfer in geographically proximal situations. Think of stadiums, factories, conference event zones, retail stores, smart city zones, etc.
3. Alef Edge
- AlefEdge is an Edge API Platform that gives Edge as a Service to enterprises.
- With Edge API, other organizations can create, customize and control their own private LTE network inside their firewalls.
- Their API solution simplifies the complexity of edge computing and 5G, and helps provide more control and security to the enterprises with a smaller overhead.
4. AWS Edge
- AWS Cloud Solutions are very popular and a lot of organizations and projects use them. With AWS Edge, they can apply all their solutions, apps, systems they built for AWS Cloud seamlessly to the Edge as well.
- IoT, Hybrid Cloud, 5G, Industrial Machine Learning are just some of the usecases where AWS for the Edge can help.
- Amazon Web Services uses its standardized programming model across different scenarious, whether Cloud, On-Premises, Edge, or Hybrid. This makes the lives of programmers easy, as they can deploy their code solutions everywhere.
- AWS has the largest cloud infrastructure footprint in the world, and world-class security standards compliance. So relying on AWS for Cloud and Edge assures that you get top-notch services.
- ClearBlade offers no-code, edge-computing solutions for enterprises, enabling them to execute IoT challenges with great results, and deploy AI power wherever they require it.
- Bringing intelligent assets to any industries and usecases is their USP, be it Rail, Mining, Cities, Logistics, Healthcare, Energy, Oil & Gas etc.
- ClearBlade line of products & services includes Enterprise IoT Platform, Edge IoT Platform, and Secure IoT Cloud.
- With the help of ClearBlade, Enterprises can ensure a seamless integration across local, edge, and cloud deployments. This helps in utilizing their data and compute efficiently. Benefits include lowest possible latency, reducing downtime drastically and providing a high quality of service.
- Dell rightly views the advancements in Edge Computing as complementary to Cloud Computing. So they have branded their solutions as "Dell Cloud Edge".
- Be it servers, data storage, gateways, networking, or hyperconverged infrastructure, Dell manufacturing specialized edge hardware for these purposes.
- Dell Technologies APEX Console gives a unified, self-service experience seamlessly enabling Hybrid Cloud, Private Cloud, and Data Storage Services.
- Dell Technologies Cloud is a suite of solutions and services for multi-cloud environments, partnering with 4200 cloud partners, supporting VMWare VxRail, and offering Data Center as a Service.
- Eclipse ioFog is a complete, open-source, edge computing platform for building and running edge applications at enterprise scale.
- You can install Eclipse ioFog to any device that has a minimal amount of compute capability, to create a distributed Edge Compute Network (ECN).
- With software components like Agent, Controller, and Connector, you can run any microservice on any device.
- Eurotech offers a modular IoT Edge Platform with ESF IoT Edge Framework and EC Edge Management Platform.
- ESF stands for "Everyware Software Framework" offering a drag and drop tool with a library of common protocols and connectors.
- It also has a comprehensive API and container management solution, to seamlessly incorporate AI inference models, different software stacks, and add-on services.
- EC stands for "Everyware Cloud". It provides secure remote management, integration, and control of devices, data across IT and cloud applications.
- Both ESF and EC have a robust open-source foundation with proper documentation, so developers can build extensible solutions.
- EdgeConneX provides Data Center solutions at various scales, from hyper-local to global. It will support your custom data center needs.
- Whether it is Edge, Far-Edge, or even underwater Cable Landing Stations, EdgeConneX can build your data center and connectivity infrastructure.
- It has also launched Voltera that specializes in Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Infrastructure solutions.
10. Equinix Edge
- Equinix offers Virtual Network Services. Here, virtualization is used to emulate various networking services on standardized hardware. So, instead of running different functions on specialized legacy hardware, communication service providers can modernize and modularize their infrastructure efficiently.
- Equinix Network Edge reduces complexity, costs and increases ease of management.
- It integrates with various Cloud products and services, so that all your data, workloads, and apps can function seamlessly.
- Like AWS does with AWS Edge, Google also makes its Cloud offering more versatile and seamless for the age of Edge Computing with Google Distributed Cloud.
- Google Distributed Cloud extends Google Cloud's infrastructure and services to your data center and edge.
- It is a portfolio of fully managed hardware and software solutions, including databases, machine learning, container management services, data analytics, etc.
- Be it Google's network edge, Operator edge, Customer edge, or Customer data center, you can be running your applications and services in any locations uniformly.
- With the Google Distributed Cloud Edge product, you can utilize Google Cloud's power wherever data is being created and consumed.
- It supports communication service providers requiring 5G, Radio Access Network, AI, etc. or any other hybrid and custom enterprise solutions.
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) through its Intelligent Edge line of products and services, offers Mobile IoT Edge applications and solutions.
- With their tough, "ruggedised" HPE Edge Compute and Edge Center, you can have AI, computational and data services at even remote locations with the harshest, most extreme conditions.
- They also offer various hardware & software solutions for wired and wireless networking, edge security, Internet of things, Workplace services, and HPE GreenLake pay-as-you-go IT solutions.
- Like Google, Amazon and HPE, the global giant in computing IBM has also braced itself for the Edge Computing revolution.
- It has thought about emerging usecases like 5G + Edge, AI, IoT, Industry 4.0, Modern Distributed IT etc. helping it to modify its existing solutions.
- IBM Edge Application Manager helps you to scale and run your edge solutions anywhere. It includes capabilities like autonomous management and data monitoring.
- IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation offers AI-powered automation enabling zero-touch network solutions.
- Equinix and Eurotech, some other Edge Computing providers we have already seen, are IBM partners using IBM and Red Hat for their own solutions.
14. Infiot ZETO
- Infiot has been acquired by Netskope. So the services we discuss under Infiot ZETO will be rolled into Netskope's Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) Platform.
- Infiot ZETO delivers Assured Application Experience with connectivity between remote users, IoT devices etc.
- It also offers Zero Trust Security using a cloud-delivered Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) service.
- With its one-click, on-demand marketplace, you can rapidly deploy services to devices or in the cloud using Infiot Edge Intelligence and AI-Driven Operations.
- Intel is the global giant in microprocessors, and is ready to support the Edge Revolution with its Intelligent Edge Devices. Like everyone else, it is eager to unleash the power of IoT and capture this growing market footprint.
- Intel Core and Atom processors can power many types of IoT devices including kiosks, industrial PCs, smart cameras, mobile point of sale devices, etc.
- Dealing with Computer Vision usecases and AI workloads with parallel programmability are the domain of Intel Movidius Vision Processing Units (VPUs). Its applications include AR/VR and anywhere else where computer vision can solve problems.
- Intel Xeon D are built to support Edge Servers in harsh conditions, while offering the reliability, speed, and efficiency that we expect from Intel products.
16. Microsoft Azure Stack Edge and IoT Edge
- Microsoft Azure is the cloud solutions brand of the global giant.
- Under Azure Stack Edge, Microsoft offers a range of hardware products for edge computing scenarios. This includes processing units for datacenters in Azure Stack Edge Pro series and Mini series.
- With Azure IoT Edge, Azure's cloud software services can be run on the edge and IoT devices. You can enable Computer Vision, remote monitoring, low-cost IoT solutions. And all this can be done with a simplified development workflow, using familiar technologies like Node.js, Python, C, C#, Java, etc.
- Mutable pitches itself as the Airbnb for servers, enabling sharing economy for servers for the emerging Edge Computing and IoT revolution.
- It helps to turn the underutilized servers of network operators into new revenue streams. Their idle processing powers can run low-latency computing solutions for AR/VR, IoT, Industrial IoT, video & audio recognition, robotics, gaming, smart cities, DNS & networking, and autonomous vehicles applications, on the edge.
- Mutable promises a faster, safer, closer, and greener Internet. It does this by utilizing 5G for fast, low-latency connectivity, containerization for security, choosing compute resources closer than 40km from your device, and using readily deployable servers.
- Schneider Electric's Elite Partners offers a product line of hardware solutions for Edge Computing and IoT.
- Prefabricated Data Center solutions include all-in-one containers and modules, power modules, power skids, and cooling solutions. These products make it easy to assemble new data centers.
- Or you can choose from their preconfigured systems to go for "one-stop-shop" data center solutions, including physical infrastructure and software services.
- Micro data center solutions are also available, which are useful when an organization has a large number of sites.
- It also offers Rack infrastructure to house the servers and other data center hardware, as well as Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software.
- Section.io basically proposes that you should build your apps. They will take care of everything else for deploying your app to any scenarios including the Edge, Multi-cluster, Multi-cloud etc.
- They have built the entire system that you require to quickly deploy your applications to global usecases in the emerging IoT Edge revolution.
- Kubernetes Edge Interface, Adaptive Edge Engine, Composable Edge Cloud are the main parts of their solution system that will enable you to securely deploy and scale your applications.
- Vapor IO's vision is to rearchitect the Internet for the age of Edge Computing.
- They are designing all their solutions to work edge-to-edge, be it networking, colocation, or intelligence.
- Modular data centers, core fiber backbone networks, and virtualization are parts of their autonomous intelligent infrastructure.
- Kinectic Grid platform offers APIs for remote monitoring, autonomic operations and other telemetry and intelligence solutions.
- Content Delivery, Telco Cloud, Private Wireless, Cloud IoT, and Edge Cloud are just some of the usecases that Vapor IO's Kinetic Grid platform supports.
Edge Computing is an emerging distributed computing paradigm, that is expected to take a larger market share than Cloud Computing. The importance of edge computing is growing with the rising applications of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) across smart cities, Industry 4.0, enterprise-level and end-consumer solutions. The primary idea is to reduce latency and ensure high quality of service by bringing computation, storage, networking, and intelligence closer to devices and local networks, rather than depending only on Cloud Computing. Edge Computing is essential to manage huge data volumes and real-time autonomous decision making that will become more and more common in the 21st century.