By 2024, worldwide pending on edge computing will reach $250 billion, according to IDC. This represents a double-digit CAGR of 12.5 per cent for each year though 2024. Clearly, this is an in-demand area of technology.
The question then is, why is edge computing proving to be so compelling, what applications is it being used in, and how should CIOs and other thought leaders be thinking about it?
Starting with the “why” and “what”, then: The benefits of edge computing are clear and well-articulated at this point. By locating the compute at the source, enterprises can operate in real-time with zero latency. This has implications for everything from medicine (enabling remote surgery and the precise movements required) to autonomous cars (where zero latency is a safety requirement), and on to pandemic response (for example, Taiwan has been using edge-enabled security cameras with AI to identify when people are breaching masking requirements).
Edge computing is of particular interest now because of the pandemic. When organisations were forced to rapidly modernise their environments (by as much as ten years in the span of months), it also had the effect of preparing their environments for further digital transformation. As GlobalData notes, Asia-Pacific is going to be particularly enthusiastic about adopting edge solutions. “IoT and 5G will be the crucial drivers for the increased adoption of edge computing offerings in the APAC region. Together, these technologies are expected to transform whole industries and create a host of new opportunities for enterprises.”
The real question that CIOs and other IT leaders need to think about, however, is the “how.” Edge computing is in demand because it is a business-enabling transformation and enterprises can make strategic use of it to drive innovation and new solutions. Deploying and managing edge solutions, however, is a challenge that presents some unique quirks.
“Edge is remote, meaning that we are introducing environmental challenges,” Schneider Electric’s Director of East Asia, Edge Computing, Steven Cheng said. “If you are putting the edge compute at an industrial site, for example, then you are contending with a harsh environment, but it is a challenge even in a commercial site like a retail store, where the edge technology needs to be deployed in a back office. In addition to dealing with dust and the issues with restricting physical access in comparison to a traditional data centre, there are fire regulations and temperature control as well that the CIO will need to address. Then there’s the question of whether you have adequate power on-site, and what happens if the power goes down.
“All of this needs to be considered when CIOs deploy edge sites: How do you manage, how do you deploy, and what the fastest way to put the power, cooling, space, wiring, and physical security together. Finally, there’s the question of you manage all these edge sites remotely?”
With edge being a relatively new field for CIOs, there are three considerations that they should be able to address in preparation for deploying an edge environment:
- What is the use case? Edge computing is a driver behind digital transformation, and one of the most common reasons that only around 30 per cent of transformation exercises are considered successful is that the business case is not clearly articulated. The value of edge to the other lines of business should be articulated first.
- How is the site going to be managed? Most edge sites will have limited IT skills on-site, and sending IT staff to be physically on-site in the event of an error can be enormously time-consuming and disruptive. Therefore remote management is absolutely crucial to address issues, manage and monitor the site.
- How do you address the lack of expertise? Edge computing is relatively new, requires a different approach to technology, and architecting and managing an edge site involves different skillsets. It’s important that the CIO can find partners and technology suppliers that can also assist with skills transfer and ongoing engagement.
The powerful combination of flexibility and form-factor
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre C-Series 43U is an example of a solution from an experienced edge computing player that has been designed to help CIOs achieve success on the edge while overcoming the strategic and practical challenges.
Within a small form-factor that does not require a dedicated IT room, this solution includes power, cooling, security, and monitoring technology. It is designed for those sites that benefit from reliable computing but lack the space and resources to manage a dedicated datacentre – locations such as bank branches, schools, offices, hospitals, and retail spaces.
Schneider Electric pitches the solution as solving three critical IT challenges for these sites:
- Resiliency – The EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre C-Series 43U allows the computing environment to remain active even in events of broader outages or removal from the grid – this is of particular concern for environments that do need to be able to run regardless out prevailing conditions (such as hospitals).
- Enablement – Through the EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre C-Series 43U, the branch office or site can benefit from zero latency computing (enabling precision robotics or AI) and otherwise grow the capacity and use of IoT. Warehouses can look to optimise and automate their operating environments when being powered by such a micro-datacentre.
- Efficiency – All businesses in all sectors benefit from the 48 per cent saving on CapEx that the EcoStruxure Micro Data Centre C-Series 43U provides, as well as its rapid deployment, and remote management capabilities. There’s no need to have a full datacentre management team on-site, significantly saving on the cost of IT resources.
The edge in action
Schneider Electric, in collaboration with long-term partner, Cisco, was able to deliver one of the world’s largest three mining companies over €1m in savings through the deployment of edge solutions. The company established a centralised operating location that would manage all the company’s mine, ports, and rail systems, while also leveraging automation on-site (requiring edge deployments for real time operation) to both drive stability into the operations and attract new workers to high-value and lower-risk roles within the company.
Three of the key elements of the project included:
- An autonomous mine truck system that allows more material to be moved efficiently and safely, increasing productivity. Trucks are operated by a central supervisory system and controller, rather than by individual drivers.
- Use of automatic drills so a single operator can operate multiple drill rigs using a console at a remote location.
- Implementation of automatic train systems with a driver on board only for supervision. This has increased speed across the network and reduced average cycle times.
As was noted in the case study: “embracing Industry 4.0 requires secure, free flow of data all the way from smart products to the cloud. Progress of industrial transformation is fast and getting faster. We need to provide automation systems that can keep pace with today’s rate of advancement while providing customers with the agility they need for tomorrow.”
Edge computing is an inevitable requirement for enterprises. From AI to the IoT, essential technologies for competitive differentiation rely on the kind of real-time, zero-latency data processing that only edge computing can deliver. For CIOs, the immediate challenge is in finding the right technologies – and the right strategy behind those technologies – that can allow them to start delivering resilient edge computing solutions quickly.