April 22, 2019 - You've heard the hype about edge computing, but if you're still not sure exactly what it all means, this blog post is for you!
How did Edge suddenly appear?
Over the years of modern computing, the pendulum continuously swings back and forth between centralized and distributed architectures based on many factors like compute power, size of electronics, application evolution, battery usage and economics. We have evolved from mainframe computing to client-server architecture to cloud and now entering distributed edge computing.
This pendulum has now swung far towards distributed processing, much closer to where the data is being produced and where an action needs to be applied. Some of the technology drivers of why Edge is starting to take shape (pun intended) are availability of high speed networking, favorable economic and battery characteristics of devices, modern containerized software designs and a desire to create ultra-low latency consumer and enterprise solutions.
And of course, underlying all of this is the ultimate desire of every company, small and large, to collect, consolidate, coalesce, commingle and conjoin data about every element of our personal and professional life in order to improve it, and in the process sell all of us more “relevant” things. And I say this with just a bit of facetiousness 😊
Where is the Edge in a typical IoT system?
What is this evolving and ephemeral “Edge” everyone talks about? The answer as we are discovering is dependent on where you sit in the solution chain.
Lets look at an example of an IoT Solution, this can be a smart city solution monitoring a garbage bin or counting pedestrians at a street corner, or a manufacturing solution monitoring equipment or inventory in a factory.
Here is what my system consists of: Lets say we have a camera and/or a sensor monitoring some equipment, connected to a router. The camera will typically be connected through an Ethernet port to the router (can be direct network connected also), and the sensor may be connected through low power wireless like Zigbee or Bluetooth. The router is typically a LTE or 5G UE, and connects through the wireless network. Wireless networks have now evolved to software defined network (SDN) architectures with virtualized network elements (NFV). Networks then ultimately connect back to a commercial Cloud. Each of these elements in someone’s terminology is called the Edge. See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: A Representative IoT Solution
Most IoT solutions, follow the same form as above, with analytics and decisions now taking place across all components of this solution chain above. Cloud is still the place were some of the core analytics, integration with static or dynamic data or enterprise applications and off-line storage happens. For our purpose today, we have collapsed all of that into the Cloud image above.
Lets understand each of these elements and what / where is the Edge:
- Equipment: The IoT asset or equipment being monitored can be very sophisticated, e.g. a vehicle or an instrumented smart bin, or it can be a very dumb equipment with a simple sensor, e.g. a tilt sensor or a full/empty sensor in a garbage can. The more sophisticated this equipment is, the higher the chance that it has enough processing power to analyze the continuous stream of data being generated and take certain decisions locally. For example, simplest decisions it can take are to shut down this equipment if a specific conditions occurs, , or turn on a light if the bin is empty or full for factory process to refill it. This equipment can therefore be the Edge of the solution.
- Camera and Sensors: Sensors, especially cameras, can have their own compute and analytics and can make decisions. The simplest cameras can read analog meters, count cars or people, or alert if an object they are monitoring is moved, i.e. processing images or video and passing on the outcomes. Therefore, it is autonomously making decisions and can be considered as the device or sensor Edge.
- Connected Router or Gateway: Routers can also be very sophisticated and perform many functions including monitoring security or aggregating and making sense of data from multiple sensors routing data through them, perform group analytics, for example, to manage multiple equipment and dispatch functions. Hence, this can be considered an Edge on the customer or asset side.
- Network: As telecom operators virtualize their network elements as virtualized elements in a software defined network, they are starting to offer processing capabilities that have in the past been done inside a Cloud. This is accomplished either natively in their own fabric or embedding/OEM Cloud elements inside of their networks. These elements are closest to the subscriber equipment in network topology, and therefore clearly the Edge of the network.
- Cloud: Cloud providers are both expanding their services to all of the other elements across the solution chain as we discussed above, through embedding access, authentication, network elements, compute and storage inside.. From their perspective all of these are Edge extensions. The Cloud itself is highly distributed and has remote Edge elements.
Huh, So Where is the Edge?
Edge is really a metonym for a system, or a sub-system, where data in motion can be quickly processed and analyzed to generate an outcome or make a decision.
It can be anywhere and at multiple places along the data journey.
OK, so what else should I think about when someone says Edge?
There are several reasons to deploy an edge solution, here are some popular ones:
- Autonomous and semi-autonomous controls and monitoring
- Continuity and resiliency in case of network absence or failure
- Lower data transfer costs
- Enhanced data security and asset security
- Localized predictions
- High definition video/audio experiences
Not so inconspicuous plug
CIMCON is using the Edge concept to bring about a revolution in the deployment of Internet of Outdoor Things in a Smart City. We deploy a connected high-compute Edge device on a light or utility pole, primarily to control city lights, but then can use that digital canopy to hang off sensors and applications for nearly any smart city outdoor application.
Be it cameras for safety and surveillance, vehicle counting, people counting, or environmental sensors to get data on weather or atmosphere, or metering for EV charging stations, digital billboards, or deploy and manage network infrastructure like WiFi, small cells or 5G antennas, our NearSky Edge platform, can meet the needs of the cities and utilities for all these and many other applications today.
Should we be excited about the Edge?
Yes. Edge enables outcomes that are more economic and operationally efficient. We all have read popular examples of use of Edge in autonomous cars, factory floor monitoring, health monitoring and controls, augmented reality, gaming, etc.
Reality is that we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Creativity and innovation is about to be unleashed as Edge solutions start to be prevalent. We will see solutions that will transform almost every vertical industry!
With the transformation of the telecom networks, rollout of high-speed, low-latency infrastructure like 5G and continued investment in powerful devices we are at the dawn of another technology revolution. Edge is a really nice 4-letter symbolism for that revolution!
Written by Mobeen Khan
COO, CIMCON Lighting