Today, over 90 percent of enterprise data is sent to the cloud. In the next years, this number will drop to just 25 percent according to Gartner. The rest of the data is not going anywhere. It is being stored and used locally, on the device it was created on – e.g. cars, trains, phones, machines, cameras. This is Edge Computing – and since the Corona outbreak it is more relevant than ever. Edge Computing is a topology rather than technology and spans devices as well as industries.
Obviously, this is cutting the discussion short. With edge consortia springing up like mushrooms, there is no lack of overlapping definitions around the terms Edge Computing and Fog Computing.
Benefits of Edge Computing put simply
The benefits of edge computing stem from its underlying paradigm: Edge Computing is a decentralized computing architecture as opposed to a centralized computing model (today typically cloud computing).
- Data ownership / privacy: With Edge Computing data can stay where it is produced, used and where it belongs (with the user / on the edge devices)
- Networking costs / Cloud costs: Reducing data transferrals and central storage reduces networking and cloud costs significantly
- Bandwidth constrains: Bandwidth is limited and the data volumes are growing much faster than the bandwidth can be expanded (e.g. with 5G networks); it therefore puts a hard stop on many applications that can be overcome by building on the edge
- Application / Data speed: Processing on the device – instead of sending data to the cloud and waiting for an answer – is way faster (latency)
- Offline-capability: With Edge Computing, devices operate independent from a network / cloud connection, so the application always works and data parts that are needed centrally can be synced when convenient, needed, connected
- The decentralized edge: Edge devices can communicate between each other directly. This decentralized Edge Computing approach more efficient (usually translating to speed) due to the short distances and because the power and information of several devices can be combined (for more info see: ultra low latency networks, peer-2-peer, M2M actions). On top, it adds resilience.
- Security: A central instance with millions of data is more attractive to hack; also the data transferral adds an additional vulnaribility.
From mist to fog to edge to cloud – a short overview
To bring some light into the terminology mess: The terms “mist computing” and “cloud computing” constitute the ends of a continuum. In our definition, the edge covers everything from cloud to any end device, however tiny and limited it may be. In this definition, there really is only the cloud and the edge.
However, some authors additionally use the terms fog computing and mist computing.
Mist covers the computing area that takes place on really tiny, distributed, and outspread devices, e.g. humidity or temperature sensors. To make it a bit more tangible: These devices generally are too small to run an operating system locally. They just generate data and send that data to the network.
As opposed to mist computing, the cloud refers to huge centralized data centers. The terms “fog” and “edge” fall within this continuum and – depending on whose definition you follow – can be used interchangeably.
From edge to cloud and back: History repeating itself
If these terms seem familiar to you, that is probably because edge computing is just another cycle in a series of computing developments.
Computing has seen constant turns between centralized and distributed computing over the decades, and with recent developments in hardware capacity, we’re again entering into a decentralized cycle.
Edge Computing has been around for 20 years, see a quick history here:
Cloud or edge? – one to rule them all?
Neither the cloud nor the edge is a solution for all cases. As always: It depends. There are cases, where the edge makes more sense than the cloud and vice versa. Most cases however, do need both. If you can, putting the bulk of your computational workload on the edge does make sense though from an economic as well as environmental perspective.
Interested in learning more? Read why Android developers should care about Edge Computing or discover Edge IoT use cases.
A last word on “edge consortia”
There is no lack of consortia defining terms around edge computing – it’s a lot like the Judean People’s Front against the People’s Front of Judea. After a year of battle, the most prominent edge consortium emerging currently seem to be EdgeX under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation – fully open source, while also largely supported and driven by Dell, who initiated it. Other notable players trying to get a foothold in this space is the Deutsche Telekom with MobiledgeX and HPE with Edge Worx. A European counterpart, ECCE, formed in spring 2019 and might be worthwhile watching, as it is supported by many industry players like e.g. KUKA, Intel, and Huawei.