As edge computing evolves, the cloud’s role changes

The notion of edge computing typically conjures an image of a device in a factory someplace, providing rudimentary computing and data collection to support a piece of manufacturing equipment. Perhaps it keeps the factory temperature and humidity optimized for the manufacturing process.

Those who deal with edge computing these days understand that what was considered “edge” just a few years ago has morphed into something a bit more involved. Here are the emerging edge computing architecture patterns that I’m seeing:

The new edge hierarchy. No longer are edge devices connected directly to some centralized system, such as one residing in the cloud. They connect to other edge devices that may connect to larger edge devices that ultimately connect to a centralized system or cloud.

This means that we’re leveraging very small and underpowered devices at the true edge, such as a thermostat on the wall. That device connects to a local server in the physical building, which is also considered an edge device, in a one-to-many configuration (one edge server to many thermostats). Then another edge server aggregates the data of many buildings and finally transmits to the public cloud where the edge-based data is stored, analyzed, and results returned down the hierarchy.

Although this seems like we’re killing ourselves with complexity by adding layers to the edge architecture, the motivations are pragmatic. There is no need to send all of the data to the centralized storage and processing system in the cloud when it can be processed better and cheaper by edge server that are closer to the devices, especially if the collection devices (the thermostat) are not powerful enough to do any real processing.

The advantages here are better performance and resiliency. The data did not have to be transmitted out of the building. The architecture is much more agile; you can repurpose each edge device without forcing changes to the centralized data storage and processing systems in the cloud.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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