Edge computing is forcing change across the IT landscape
What if I told you that there is nothing new under the sun? In the ever-changing landscape of information technology (IT), concepts grow and morph — but at their root, they remain and hold fast to the core tenet of their form.
I may be dating myself but when I was getting started, we had a new and fascinating concept called "client-server." This was before the cloud, when we had operations executed on the PC, drawing data from the server. Then, we moved to the cloud and all the operations and calculations were executed "server-side" and everyone was fine with 8-to-10 second load times.
Then we grew tired of that wait, payloads and workloads grew, and we decided the load or content just needed to be closer to the executing end-user. Voila! Now we now have edge computing. The concept is simple: It's "client-server" for the cloud. It is a paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed, to improve response times and save bandwidth.
So let's have a look at what edge computing is, how it came to be and what exciting and potential uses it has. Where are we, in 2020, with its adoption and rollout? What are people currently using it for and what exciting breakthroughs are happening soon?
Born from content delivery
The start of edge computing lies in content delivery networks that were created in the late 1990s to serve web and video content from edge servers that were deployed close to users. We soon realized that, the bigger the content, the closer to the PC it needed to be — you can't run a workload at long distances with full video, etc.
In the early 2000s, these networks evolved to host applications and application components at the edge servers, resulting in the first commercial edge computing services that hosted applications such as dealer locators, shopping carts, real-time data aggregators, and ad insertion engines. This has expanded into mobile gaming, and large video-on-demand applications that span an entire gamut of use cases.
With the workload closer to the executing client (the end user), providers have the potential to create anything they want and deliver it at a speed that is equivalent to the file's or app's being installed on your computer. Edge application services reduce the volumes of data that must be moved by moving it all closer to the client, reducing the distance that data must travel.
A lot of excitement and buzz is being generated for serverless execution of the workload. You can now have content that is executed on-demand and only when its requested. For example, the mobile app game you love to play has its content served up only when the user goes into that particular part of the game.
We are using this functionality in our own environment currently. Our web pages, applications and workloads don't exist on a server but on a disk drive, sitting close to the clients, and are only executed as code when someone clicks the icon to get into that app.
The end result is lower latency and reduced transmission costs. We pay only execution time for the code and not for a server to sit around waiting to deliver content. The difference is a matter of spending pennies for things that used to cost dollars.
Facial recognition, pixel streaming, and more
Some of the other areas of movement for edge computing are on computation offloading for real-time applications, such as facial recognition algorithms. These showed considerable improvements in response times, as demonstrated in early research. Who doesn't want their face scanned instantly like in the movie Minority Report?
Further research has showed that using resource-rich machines called cloudlets near mobile users, which offer services typically found in the cloud, provided improvements in execution time when some of the tasks are offloaded to the edge node or cloud area. These are often called CDNs, or content delivery networks.
Maybe one of the downfalls is offloading every task may result in a slowdown due to transfer times between device and nodes, so depending on the workload an optimal configuration can be defined. You always need to make sure that your CDN has enough computing power and is set up to scale.
Another use of the architecture — one that is growing at an incredible rate — is cloud gaming, where some aspects of a game could run in the cloud, while the rendered video is transferred to lightweight clients running on devices such as mobile phones, VR glasses, and so forth. This type of streaming is also known as pixel streaming and is on the bleeding edge of where computing and content delivery is headed.
Too many to count, we have other notable applications including connected cars, autonomous cars, smart cities, Industry 4.0 (smart industry), and home automation systems. My last job had a lot of Industry 4.0 use cases that required a ton of CDN to our remote shops around the world.
Other technologies must keep pace
As edge computing continues to develop, the bandwidth demand will increase to where 5G won't be enough to handle it, it will have to grow. You can expect to see a rebirth of the Internet of Things. Devices that had been stale because they were too slow — and because the development of IPv6 was lagging — will perk back up.
We are on the cusp of light-speed bandwidth and right in the middle of the curve for removal of the IPv4 addressing scheme. I believe we will have a CDN that can be tapped for common use cases. If you need a game engine, a code snippet, a picture that is publicly accessible, these will come from a centralized CDN.
Imagine a CDN, or any content, being delivered to you for the just the price of execution by the client. Every single transaction on the Internet, someone would be paying for behind the scenes.
The truly big breakthrough that this technology will allow, however, is digital transformation. Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers.
It is also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure. One thing we will all have to accept is that edge computing will soon be bringing about a massive amount of change. Prepare to adapt!