Edge computing can mean different things to different technology leaders – from “anything that’s not in the cloud” to “the practice of capturing, storing, processing, and analyzing data nearest to where the data is generated.” As important as knowing what edge computing is, however, is understanding what it is not.
What is edge computing and why does it matter?
Edge computing in action: Examples range from smart wearables to computers parsing intersection traffic flow.
As edge capabilities become more important to the enterprise technology organization, IT leaders will want to clear up some common misperceptions about the concept – its benefits and drawbacks, its origins and its future, and more. “Edge computing is a foundational capability that will create disruptive changes by allowing firms to build new digital-physical ecosystems,” says Brian Hopkins, VP and principal analyst at Forrester.
[ For a primer, see How to explain edge computing in plain English. ]
Today, edge computing is already in use, in ways you may not realize – from the wearable on your wrist to the computers parsing intersection traffic flow. Other examples include smart utility grid analysis, safety monitoring of oil rigs, streaming video optimization, and drone-enabled crop management.
Edge computing myths, explained
Nonetheless, edge is one of those technology models that breeds some confusion and misunderstanding. Let’s clear that up.
Here are some of the biggest myths:
Myth 1: There is only one true definition of edge
“Edge can vary based on computing, storage, and where you engage streaming data,” says Jason Mann, VP of IoT at SAS. It will also vary based on your point of view, adds Hopkins. The enterprise edge will look different than a cloud vendor’s or a telco’s edge.
“Edge computing brings the data and the compute closest to the point of interaction.”
Here’s how Red Hat chief technology strategist E.G. Nadhan defines edge: “For edge devices to be smart, they need to process the data they collect, share timely insights, and if applicable, take appropriate action. Edge computing is the science of having the edge devices do this without the need for the data to be transported to another server environment.
“Put another way,” Nadhan continues, “edge computing brings the data and the compute closest to the point of interaction.”
Myth 2: Edge computing is a single thing
It is neither an easily categorized entity nor market, but rather “a way of recasting infrastructure boundaries beyond the data center depending on the use case, industry, or business function,” explains Richard Villars, VP, Data Center and Cloud, at IDC. “The edge could be also looked at as a location in between the core (which is the corporate or cloud data center) and the endpoints (smart sensors, devices, things) where the digital and physical worlds intersect.”
Myth 3: Edge computing is new
The concept is not novel. However, advances in technology have made edge computing more plausible and powerful. “The cost of computing devices and sensors has fallen. More computing power is contained in smaller devices,” says Dr. James Stanger, chief technology evangelist at CompTIA. “There’s been an explosion in the volume of data generated and collected. New analytics tools make it possible to sort through this data more efficiently and economically, allowing organizations to act on the information.”
Myth 4: Edge computing is a cloud killer
Cloud computing isn’t going anywhere. Some analyst firms have suggested that edge computing will eat the cloud. Not true. “In reality, edge and cloud are complementary technologies,” Mann says.
Myth 5: Edge computing and IoT are one and the same
“Edge computing empowers IoT solutions to be more responsive and less costly.”
“The edge does not equal IoT,” Forrester’s Hopkins notes. “IoT is a set of solutions that involve connected things with sensors. Edge computing empowers IoT solutions to be more responsive and less costly.” Edge computing can also be a critical element in non-IoT situations such as mobile customer engagement and B2B process acceleration.
Hopkins believes that edge actually represents a kind of expansion of cloud economics, in its scalability and as-a-service cost structure, to places the cloud can never go. “Cloud vendors will surely sell surely edge hardware and software that extend capabilities to various ‘edges,’” Hopkins says. “However, edge computing does offer a new competitor to cloud vendors because a host of other vendors like telcos and CDN are offering edge cloud services that will over time attract customers to deploy software to the edge that they might once have tried to run on cloud vendors offerings.”