Edge computing and cloud computing are sometimes discussed as if they’re mutually exclusive approaches to network infrastructure. While they may function in different ways, utilizing one does not preclude the use of the other.
Indeed, Futurum Research found that, among companies that have deployed edge projects, only 15% intend to separate these efforts from their cloud computing initiatives — largely for security or compartmentalization reasons.
So then, what’s the difference, and how do edge and cloud work together?
Location, location, location
Moving data and processing to the cloud, as opposed to on-premises data centers, has enabled the business to move faster, more efficiently, less expensively — and in many cases, more securely.
Yet cloud computing is not without challenges, particularly:
- Users will abandon a graphics-heavy website if it doesn’t load quickly. So, imagine the lag for compute-heavy processing associated artificial intelligence or machine learning functions.
- The strength of network connectivity is crucial for large data sets. As enterprises increasingly generate data, particularly with the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), traditional cloud connections will be insufficient.
To make up for the lack of speed and connectivity with cloud, processing for mission-critical applications will need to occur closer to the data source. Maybe that’s a robot on the factory floor, digital signage at a retail store, or an MRI machine in a hospital. That’s edge computing, which reduces the distance the data must travel and thereby boosts the performance and reliability of applications and services.
One doesn’t supersede the other
That said, the benefits gained by edge computing don’t negate the need for cloud. In many cases, IT will now become a decision-maker in terms of best usage for each. For example, edge might make sense for devices running processing-power-hungry apps such as IoT, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. And cloud will work for apps where time isn’t necessarily of the essence, like inventory or big-data projects.
“By being able to triage the types of data processing on the edge versus that heading to the cloud, we can keep both systems running smoothly – keeping our customers and employees safe and happy,” writes Daniel Newman, principal analyst for Futurum Research.
And in reality, edge will require cloud. “To enable digital transformation, you have to build out the edge computing side and connect it with the cloud,” Tony Antoun, senior vice president of edge and digital at GE Digital, told Automation World. “It’s a journey from the edge to the cloud and back, and the cycle keeps continuing. You need both to enrich and boost the business and take advantage of different points within this virtual lifecycle.”
Ensuring resiliency of cloud and edge
Both edge and cloud computing require careful consideration to the underlying processing power. Connectivity and availability, no matter the application, are always critical measures.
But especially for the edge, it will be important to have a resilient architecture. Companies should focus on ensuring security, redundancy, connectivity, and remote management capabilities.
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