From cloud to the edge: the why and how behind the shift

Red Hat Asia Pacific Pty Ltd

By Fytos Charalambides*
Wednesday, 10 June, 2020

From cloud to the edge: the why and how behind the shift

Data, analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are fuelling the innovations organisations need in today’s fast-moving marketplace by providing insights that uncover opportunities to deliver new services or optimise costs. Added to this, the explosive growth of internet-connected devices and the Internet of Things, along with new applications that require real-time computing power, has pushed enterprises to what we call the edge, literally and figuratively.

Not long ago, edge computing, AI and IoT tended to be buzzwords. Today, however, we are beginning to see organisations crystallise edge computing use cases. By 2022, 60% of enterprise IT infrastructures will focus on centres of data, rather than traditional data centres, according to Gartner. In ‘Predictions 2020: Edge Computing Makes The Leap’, Forrester predicts that the edge cloud service market will grow by at least 50% this year.

Why should I care about edge?

As businesses begin to invest in edge computing as part of their wider technology strategy, it begs the question — why edge? And what makes it so different from standard cloud computing?

Edge computing enables companies to distribute the flexibility of cloud computing across a large number of locations and resources. It brings computing resources such as processing power, networking and storage closer to the end user or data source. This greatly improves the ability to scale as well as the responsiveness and overall service experience.

This is more important in a geographically large country such as Australia, where remote communities can benefit from local computing resources instead of ‘tromboning’ data to a capital city and back. Some example uses that customers are talking about are:

  • Connected agritech, whereby edge computing can be leveraged to process large amounts of censor data closer to regional and rural farms, generated by advanced agricultural machinery such as ‘connected tractors’
  • Real-time processing of large amounts of video data using specialised hardware (such as GPUs) for remote monitoring and surveillance, including real-time analysis (example: friend or foe)
  • Connected small factories whereby SCADA-based manufacturing systems can not only be interconnected locally, but also send analytics data to remote processing locations such as on premises or the public cloud.

Thus, emerging technologies and applications across different industry use cases are creating the need to extend compute processing closer to users as a way to improve the ability of the business to scale. Organisations need to process an ever-growing amount of data, then turn this data into insights and actions faster than ever before in order to enhance the overall application/user experience for latency-sensitive applications.

Edge computing also provides the following benefits:

  • Reduced latency: By processing and storing data closer to application users, edge provides better application response times and user experience. This is a critical requirement for applications in the healthcare and transport sector.
  • Bandwidth cost savings: In a country like Australia, many companies are reaching the technical limits and/or economic limits of transporting large amounts of data from regional and rural areas to capital cities. By distributing compute power to the edge, organisations are able to reduce the strain placed on network bandwidth, connections and core data centres.
  • Increased resilience: To avoid a single point of failure, it’s possible to isolate different locations in case of a failure. If one of the remote sites fails, other sites can take over and minimise the impact to the business.
  • Meeting data sovereignty requirements: Regulatory and compliance needs of data movement can be complex and difficult to manage. In cases where data cannot cross the boundaries of a state or country, edge computing allows you to keep and process that data locally.

Challenges in deploying edge

The main challenge is to deploy and maintain edge sites without increasing the number of human operators in a linear manner as the number of sites increases, and without needing to learn a whole new set of products, technologies or processes. This can only be overcome by using a common, modular platform which spans and scales easily from core data centres up to the very far edge.

Further, it needs a consistent operational approach inclusive of automated provisioning, management and orchestration of hundreds — and sometimes tens of thousands — of sites that have minimal (or no) IT staff across heterogeneous systems, all of which can come with high deployment and maintenance costs.

Take the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, which presents enormous challenges for the traditional supply chain — specifically the balancing of social distancing measures and the equilibrium that is needed to support economic resurgence as well as maintaining public health. Even for organisations with an already established cloud approach, COVID-19 has caused many to quickly change their business strategies to adapt to this new/socially distant world.

In situations such as these, consider the benefits of new operating models that rely on knowledge workers to program and maintain edge-distributed workloads. If distributed networks and operating systems already exist at scale, the entire platform becomes inherently agile since IoT, SCADA and machine-to-machine communication rely on standards, a consistent operating environment, certified platforms, and secure protocols and communication endpoints.

Public, private or hybrid cloud?

With many kinds of workloads across different kinds of footprints — from public and private cloud to virtualised or physical servers — edge computing supports businesses to extend the capabilities discussed earlier to different physical locations. As is the case with new technologies, there are many critical factors to consider when deciding which solution is right for you.

Hybrid cloud provides the consistency and scalability needed to manage the hundreds of thousands of micro sensors that could be a part of a single edge deployment. These deployments need a secure foundation that can offer the automation, management and orchestration needed to manage such large amounts of data. Hybrid cloud makes all of this possible by letting IT departments manage all the networked devices just as they would their centralised IT.

The perfect partnership between edge computing and hybrid cloud capabilities enables businesses to achieve a consistent application and operational experience.

The open source advantage

Open source is the world’s innovation engine, where great technology is created through the collective genius of hundreds of thousands of engineers. Many of the applications and platforms discussed earlier have been born through the open source model.

Linux was the pioneering technology that shot open source into the mainstream. In relation to standards and platforms, a vast network of Linux operating systems exists, in turn making enterprise open source and the innovation upstream the perfect incubator for edge computing.

To manage the complexity in the background and enable simplicity on the surface, organisations are looking for a common, horizontal platform — from the core to the edge — with a consistent app development and operations experience.

Because edge computing solutions are built using different technologies spread across multiple hardware and software platforms, there’s no complete edge computing solution stack in the market currently that can be deployed in its entirety.

However, the open source model makes this kind of delivery, as it builds on a foundation of principles that extends to a vast technology ecosystem to meet the needs of customers and their heterogeneous environments.

So, when it comes to edge computing, ask yourself what business issues need to be addressed. If it’s improved decision-making capabilities, choose edge. If it’s increased speed and decreased latency of computing processes, choose edge. And most importantly, if you need to streamline operational consistency, choose edge — ensuring it complements your existing hybrid-cloud strategy.

*Fytos Charalambides is Director and Head of Technology Group, A/NZ, Red Hat.

Image credit: ©

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