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Centralized data centers consume a lot of energy, produce a lot of carbon emissions and cause significant electronic waste. While data centers are seeing a positive trend towards using green energy, an even more sustainable approach (alongside so-called “green data centers” [1]) is to cut unnecessary cloud traffic, central computation and storage as much as possible by shifting computation to the edge. Ideally, an Edge Computing strategy harnesses the power of already deployed available devices (like e.g. smartphones, machines, desktops, gateways), making the solution even more sustainable.

Why do Digitisation and IoT projects need to think about sustainability now?

Huge centralized data centres (cloud computing) have become a critical part of the infrastructure for a digitalized society. These large central cloud data centers produce a lot of carbon emissions, electric and electronic waste. [2] The share of global electricity used by data centres is already estimated to be around 1-3% [3] and data centers generate 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions (on par with the aviation industry). [4]

54% of which are caused by the cloud data centers of the big hyperscalers (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba Cloud). [5] On top of this, providing and maintaining cloud infrastructure (manufacturing, shipping of hardware, buildings and lines) also consumes a huge amount of greenhouse gases [3] and produces a lot of abnormal waste (e.g. toxic coolants) at the end of life. [6]

sustainable edge computing

Bearing that in mind, the growth forecasts for digitization, IoT, and Mobile [7] are concerning. The steady increase in data processing, storage, and traffic in the future, comes with a huge electricity demand for this industry. [8] In fact, estimations expect the communications industry to use 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025. [9]

sustainable edge computing

Shifting to green energy is a good step. However, a more effective and ultimately longer term solution requires looking at the current model of data storage, filtering, processing and transferal. By implementing Edge Computing, we can reduce the amount of useless and wasteful data traversing to and from the cloud as much as possible, thus reducing overall energy requirements in the long term.

What is Edge Computing?

While until recently 90 percent of enterprise data was sent to the cloud, this is changing rapidly. In fact, this number is dropping to only 25 percent in the next 3 years according to Gartner. By then, most of the data will be stored and used locally, on the device it was created on, e.g. on smartphones, cars, trains, machines, watches. This is called Edge Computing. Accordingly, edge devices need the same technology stack (just in a much smaller format) as a cloud server. This means: An operating system, a data storage / persistence layer (database), a networking layer, security functionalities etc. that run efficiently on restricted hardware.

As you can only use the devices’ resources, which can be pretty limited, inefficient applications can push a device to its limits, leading to slow response rates, crashes, and battery drain.

edge device architecture

EDGE DEVICE ARCHITECTURE

Edge Computing is much more than some simple data pre-processing, which takes advantage of only a small portion of the computing that is possible on the edge. An on-device database is a prerequisite for meaningful Edge Computing. With an on-device database, data can be stored and processed on the devices directly (the so called edge). Only useful data is sent to the server and saved there, reducing the networking traffic and computing power used in data centers tremendously, while also making use of the computing resources of devices which are already in use. This greatly reduces bandwidth and energy required by data centers. On top, edge computing also provides the flexibility to operate independent from an Internet connection, enables fast real time response rates, and cuts cloud costs.

Why is Edge Computing sustainable?

Edge Computing reduces network traffic and cloud data center usage

With Edge Computing the amount of data traversing the network can be reduced greatly, freeing up bandwidth. Bandwidth refers to the transmission speed of data on the network. While maximum speeds are published by the network operators, the actual speed obtained in a given network is almost always lower, because the bandwidth is shared and limited. The more data transferred at any given moment, the slower the network speed. Data on the edge is also much more likely to be used, and then (due to restricted devices size) deleted when it is no longer useful.

Edge computing is optimized for efficiency

Edge “data centres” are typically more efficient than cloud data centres. As described above, resources on edge devices are restricted – as opposed to cloud infrastructure, edge devices do not scale horizontally. Therefore, every piece of the tech stack is – ideally – highly optimized for resource efficiency. Any computing done more efficiently helps reduce energy consumption, especially taking into account the huge number of devices already deployed (number), the worldwide impact is significant.

With Edge Computing you can put already deployed hardware to better use

On top, there is a realm of edge devices already deployed that is currently underused. Many existing devices are capable of fairly complex computing; when these devices send all of their data to the cloud, an opportunity is lost. Edge Computing utilizes existing hardware and infrastructure,  taking advantage of the existing computing power. If these devices continue to be underused, we will need to build bigger and bigger central data centers, simultaneously burdening existing network infrastructure and reducing bandwidth for senselessly sending everything to the cloud.

Cloud versus Edge: an Example

Today, many projects are built based on cloud computing. Especially in first prototypes or pilots, cloud computing offers an easy and fast start. However, with scale, cloud computing often becomes too slow, expensive, and unreliable. In a typical cloud setup, data is gathered on edge devices and forwarded to the cloud for computation and storage. Often a computed result is sent back. In this design, the edge devices are dumb devices that are dependant upon a working internet connection and a working cloud server; they do not have any intelligence or logic of their own. In a smart home cloud example, data would be sent from devices in the home, e.g. a thermostat, the door, the TV etc. to the cloud, where it is saved and used.

Cloud vs Edge

If the user would want to make changes via a cloud-based mobile app when in the house, the changes would be send to the cloud, changed there and then from there be sent to the devices. When the Internet connection is down or the server is not working, the application will not work.

With Edge Computing, data stays where it is produced, used and where it belongs – without traversing the network unnecessarily. This way, cloud infrastructure needs are reduced in three ways: Firstly, less network traffic, secondly, less central storage and thirdly less computational power. Rather, edge computing makes use of all the capable hardware already deployed in the world. E.g. in a smart home, all the data could stay within the house and be used on site. Only the small part of the data truly needed accessible from anywhere would be synchronized to the cloud.

Cloud vs Edge

Take for example a thermostat in such a home setting: it might produce 1000s of temperature data points per minute. However, minimal changes typically do not matter and data updates aren’t necessary every millisecond. On top, you really do not need all this data in the cloud and accessible from anywhere.

With Edge Computing, this data can stay on the edge and be used within the smart home as needed. Edge Computing enables the smart home to work fast, efficiently, and autonomous from a working internet connection. In addition, the smart home owner can keep the private data to him/herself and is less vulnerable to hacker attacks. 

How does ObjectBox make Edge Computing even more sustainable?

ObjectBox improves the sustainability of Edge Computing with high performance and efficiency: our 10X speed advantage translates into less use of CPU and battery / electricity. With ObjectBox, devices compute 10 times as much data with equivalent power. Due to the small size and efficiency, ObjectBox runs on restricted devices allowing application developers to utilize existing hardware longer and/or to do more instead on existing infrastructure / hardware.

Alongside the performance and size advantages, ObjectBox’ Sync solution takes care of making data available where needed when needed. It allows synchronization in an offline setting and / or to the cloud. Based on efficient syncing principles, ObjectBox Sync aims to reduce unnecessary data traffick as much as possible and is therefore perfectly suited for efficient, useful, and sustainable Edge Computing. Even when syncing the same amount of data, ObjectBox Sync reduces the bandwidth needed and thus cloud networking usage, which incidentally reduces cloud costs.

Also coming soon ObjectBox time series which will provide users an intuitive dashboard to see patterns behind the data. It will further help users to track thousands of data points/second in real-time

How Edge Computing enables new use cases that help make the world more sustainable

As mentioned above, there are a variety of IoT applications that help reduce waste of all kinds. These applications can have a huge impact on creating a more sustainable world, assuming the applications themselves are sustainable. Three powerful examples to demonstrate the huge impact IoT applications can have on the world:

1) Smart City Lighting: Chicago has implemented a system which allows them to save approx. 10 million USD / year and London estimates it can save up to 70% of current electricity use and costs as well as maintenance costs through smart public lighting systems. [10]

2) Reducing Food Waste: From farm to kitchen, IoT applications can help to reduce food waste across the food chain. Sensors used to monitor the cold chain, from field to supermarket, can ensure that food maintains a certain temperature, thus guaranteeing that products remain food safe and fresh longer, reducing food waste.

3) Reduce Water Waste: Many homes and commercial building landscapes are still watered manually or on a set schedule. This is an inexact method of watering, which does not take into account weather, soil moistness, or the water levels needed by the plant. Using smart IoT water management solution, landscape irrigation can be reduced, saving water and improving landscape health.

These positive effects are all the more powerful when the IoT applications themselves are sustainable. 

The benefits of cloud computing are broad and powerful, however there are costs to this technology. A combination of green data centers and Edge Computing helps to resolve these often unseen costs. With Edge Computing we can reduce the unnecessary use of bandwidth and server capacity (which comes down to infrastructure, electricity and physical space) while simultaneously taking advantage of underused device resources. ObjectBox amplifies these benefits, with high performance on small devices and efficient data synchronization – making edge computing an even more sustainable solution.













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