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Edge computing technology key to future enterprise, Gartner says

Edge computing technology key to future enterprise, Gartner says

Lauren Horwitz

by Lauren Horwitz

Managing Editor, Cisco.com

Edge computing technology is an undeniable reality, says a Gartner expert. IT’s pushing computing power to the edge to keep pace with trends like IoT and immersive environments.

LAS VEGAS – If you’re not living on the edge yet, you will be, say experts. That’s edge computing technology, to be more specific.

As mobile devices and Internet-connected products proliferate, data is growing in volume and velocity. By 2025, approximately 80 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, according to IDC research. The amount of data being generated is doubling every two years, and, by 2020, the amount of data is predicted to reach 44 zettabytes, IDC estimates.

Existing cloud-based computing architectures, however, won't be able handle these explosions in data volume. Enterprises need to access, analyze and act on their data quickly, and sending data back and forth to centralized locations isn’t viable as the pace of business increases. Instead of moving data across long routes to data centers or clouds, which creates network latency, edge computing is designed to minimize that performance hit by distributing computing power to the edge.

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Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations Management and Data Center Conference

A session on edge computing at the recent Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations Management and Data Center Conference.

“There is so much missing that is going to be filled over the next five, six, seven years with capability at the edge,” predicted Thomas Bittman, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research, in a session on edge computing at the recent Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations Management and Data Center Conference.

Bittman said network latency will block advancements in immersive technologies, Internet of Things (IoT)-connected sensors and mobile devices unless new computing models come into play.

“All the things that are producing data, and the people interacting with each other and with things, it’s going to push data to the edge,” Bittman said. “We can’t have enough pipes cheap enough to accommodate the amount of data out there.”

Edge computing: Bringing compute to data

Enter edge computing, which pushes the frontier of applications, data, and services away from centralized models and to distributed extremes of a network. “The rule in IT is the compute goes to the data,” Bittman said.

This enables much more dynamic interactions among multiple things, people in context-driven situations. A self-driving car and a home security system will need to interact—and quickly—to respond when you arrive home, want to open the garage door and turn on certain lights. These devices also need to interact with the human voice or other signals and respond correctly and in real time.

This scenario might conjure a scene from the film Minority Report, in which billboard-size screens light up as Tom Cruise passes and then a store's digital bot greets him with personal details. This is the kind of “hyperinteracivity” that edge computing aims to accommodate.

“These [interactions] are very dynamic and very fleeting,” Bittman said, but today, the data is moving too quickly to be exploited. “Business moments are being missed because we can’t capture them fast enough.” Edge computing technology strives to accommodate that ephemerality, dynamism and need for real-time insight.

Some attendees at the Gartner conference said that while edge computing is of interest, it isn't yet in use at their companies. “I’m sure we will want to build toward enabling edge computing, but we’re not there yet,” said a data center manager from a manufacturer in Missouri, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Experts like Bittman say that edge computing may still seem like a distant future, but it’s fast approaching. “In the next few years,” Bittman predicted, “you will have edge strategies—you’ll have to.” That was consistent with a real-time poll conducted at the conference: 25% of the audience uses edge computing technology and more than 50% plan to implement it within two years.

For more on this topic, check out our hybrid cloud strategy guide.

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”