Evolution of Edge: Top trends driving the technology in 2021

Evolution of Edge: Top trends driving the technology in 2021
Evaristus is general manager of IBM's hybrid cloud and edge ecosystem. In this role, he is responsible for working across IBM’s ecosystem including hardware manufacturers, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), distributors, resellers and Global Systems Integrators (GSIs) to enable them to drive the adoption of IBM’s hybrid and multicloud platform with their client set. Evaristus holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia Business School (’04), a Ph.D. in Engineering, an M.Sc. in Manufacturing Technology and a B.Sc in Computer Science & Electronic Engineering all from the University of Birmingham, UK.

Edge computing is here to stay. In fact, IDC estimates the number of connected devices will reach 55.7 billion by 2025. But before diving into how I expect edge to evolve in the upcoming year, I want to share how I define the technology:

  • What is edge computing? In simple terms, it is processing, analyzing and acting on data where it is created and actions are taken. 
  • Where is it being created? Locations that are out of the cloud or the main data center – warehouses, stores, factory floors, oil rigs, cars; where the majority of real work is performed or where we live our lives. 
  • What are edge devices? IoT devices that produce data and have compute capability, so they can run code, but are designed for a purpose other than being a computer.

We are already witnessing the rapid adoption of edge, and it is no secret that it will continue to rise. Still, I believe the most significant impact on the future of enterprise business will be driven by how you embrace, integrate and innovate with edge computing. 

1. Collaboration is key to unlocking the benefits of edge

To fully realize the value of edge requires a diverse set of hardware and infrastructure providers, edge device manufacturers, industry independent software vendors and more, working together to implement open standards-based and cloud-native solutions that can autonomously manage edge applications at massive scale. Partner collaboration will be vital to helping customers extend their cloud computing to the edge, making it easier to integrate a broad range of solutions without worrying about vendor lock-in. 

For example, in order to implement a return-to-work solution following the COVID-19 pandemic, companies may use a camera that has processing power supported by chips designed by different manufacturers. These cameras can help organizations process and analyze images in near real-time to enable decision making; helping to determine which entrance or exit an employee should use, if staff are wearing the correct face covering, and how to improve foot-traffic. To make this work requires integration across the different technologies involved in the implementation.

An open ecosystem approach, open source, and open standards, where participating companies are like-minded in their belief of ‘open,’ will significantly reduce the complexities of working at the edge and accelerate innovation that will result in value to the business. Open systems create a level playing field on which vendors and partners from all aspects of the marketplace can grow the value and utility of edge computing to the entire ecosystem – where value-chains can be created that benefit business outcomes, and where virtuous cycles can thrive. 

2. Enhancing the ability to act on data where it is collected

The proliferation of devices that can compute is enabling data to move from traditional data centers to the cloud, and next, out to the edge. This migration will be further accelerated by companies like Hazelcast, an open-source in-memory computing platform that helps customers act instantly on data everywhere by providing a data plane running at the edge. Hazelcast’s in-memory technology offers a flexible, low-latency edge computing option that can help accelerate application speed across multiple mobile and IoT devices, as well as other sources of streaming data. Hazelcast and others in the space ensure that enterprises can more efficiently process the massive amounts of AI, analytics and IoT workloads they are gathering at the edge in near real-time, an essential step to help manage edge applications at scale–across thousands of endpoints–to drive automation.

3. Hybrid is the engine that will accelerate edge

Our partners think about edge as part of a broader, hybrid cloud environment that enables them to build containerized solutions once and run them anywhere — from data centers, across all public and private clouds, all the way to the edge. According to a recent IBV report, a hybrid multi-cloud platform delivers 2.5 times more value than a single-cloud approach. This is important because the vast majority of enterprises will operate both on-prem and multi-cloud workloads, requiring solutions that deliver security, scale and flexibility. 

Edge will increasingly be viewed as part of a business’s hybrid strategy, built on open horizontal architecture that can seamlessly integrate and manage workloads across a large volume of devices from many vendors. A hybrid approach will ensure a robust edge experience that enables autonomous management of operations by leveraging technology such as AI and analytics to take actions faster, reduce the impact from intermittent connectivity and minimize data transport to central hubs for cost efficiency.

4. The emergence of 5G will also play a critical role driving edge’s growth

5G represents a major opportunity for business: recent research from Nokia found that 5G-enabled industries have the potential to add $8 trillion to the global GDP by 2030. The emergence of 5G delivered by telecommunications companies, will help enterprises more efficiently automate and analyze data at the edge by providing better reliability and speed across connected devices. While the laws of physics still apply, and will impact latency, the integration of 5G can help to extend operations to the most remote locations and will be further optimized by shortened round trip times. Most importantly, the use of 5G will unlock a new wave of innovation by creating opportunities to enhance digital experiences that improve performance and enable continuous operations. For example, Global IT, consulting and business process services company Wipro, recently launched a 5G edge services solutions suite designed to help customers ensure better data control, faster insights and more automated operations by processing data across data centers, public and/or private clouds, to the edge. This combination of 5G and Edge will help companies in telecommunications, manufacturing, oil & gas and retail to extend their enterprise operations.

While 5G deployments will be centered on where people and businesses are, for critical edge locations outside the reach of traditional telco network facilities, ecosystem partnerships will help increase reach by providing private 5G telco cloud extensions to metro edges, campuses, factories, retail stores, or remote distribution centers.

Edge computing in 2021 and beyond

Edge will enable innovation across telecommunications, industry 4.0, retail, insurance, worker safety, agriculture, medical, etc. We have already seen impressive work from companies like AT&T, Verizon and Vodafone, that are leveraging the technology to capitalize on insights closer to where data is created. There are many factors that will play a role in edge’s future. For example, with vaccines coming on board and begin to, one hopes, usher in a recovery from the pandemic, we expect to see an accelerated need to resume operations while enabling a remote workforce and ensuring the safety of on-site employees and customers. This will require edge computing applications.

As companies increasingly collaborate to develop open ecosystems that support the technology, and in turn, make it easier for customers to integrate as part of their overall hybrid cloud strategies, edge will deliver even more value to businesses in 2021. By enabling faster insights and actions, better data security and controls, and continuity even when disconnected from the network, edge will continue to expand its usage, helping to modernize and eventually redefine how businesses operate.

(Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash)

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