Computing evolved dramatically over the last two decades, from punch-card machines the size of buildings to powerful devices that fit in your pocket. Today, we have the option of transmitting them into the void, storing them in the ephemeral data cloud. Cloud computing has advantages and disadvantages, but it, too, is evolving into something new — edge computing. What are the benefits of this new style of data storage and where will it start to appear in different industries?
What Is Edge Computing?
Edge computing exists in that strange middle ground between physical data storage and cloud computing. It’s still a type of digital data storage, like cloud computing. However, instead of collecting the information and sending it to a distant central data server, edge computing keeps it closer to the source — close to the edge, in digital parlance.
It’s goal is to reduce or eliminate data retrieval latency. Ideally, you would be able to send and retrieve information in real time, rather than waiting for the cloud data servers to respond.
Cloud computing has plenty of benefits, from improved security to enhanced scalability. The amount of latency might seem minimal to the average user. Still, the difference between a half-second and a quarter-second can be dramatic if you’re working on something time-sensitive.
Benefits of This Storage
What sets this new evolution of digital data storage apart from its predecessors?
First, there is the issue of data privacy. Cloud storage servers may be secure, but you’re still sending your information across vast distances to the central cloud server for processing and storage. Edge computing keeps your data closer to home, reducing its travel distance and the number of potential breach points it might encounter.
It also allows for real-time responsiveness, which can be essential in many situations. Look at self-driving cars, which are all networked to one another and a central server. If their network is using cloud computing, it might take half a second to send a query and receive a response. In that half-second, the vehicle may have crashed into a pole or run down a pedestrian. With edge computing servers, since the information is all stored locally, the car could get a response in a fraction of the time.
If the internet is down, you get cut off from your cloud storage systems. The same problem occurs if there is an issue with the servers themselves. With everything stored in one central hub, there is a single point of failure that can take the entire system offline. It gives you access to your data, even if the cloud is offline.
This storage method is still relatively new. It will take some time to iron out all the kinks and make it integrate smoothly with existing systems. One of the nicest things about edge computing, when you compare it with cloud computing, is that the two systems aren’t mutually exclusive. Data can be stored both in the edge and cloud, allowing the two types of storage mediums to complement one another.
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Where Will We See Edge Computing First?
We’re already starting to see it in places that use smart street lamps and other smart infrastructure. Instead of sending all data to a central server, they can store it locally and use that information to make decisions in real time.
You’ve already started utilizing edge computing if you played, or still play, the Niantic game Pokemon Go. The augmented reality aspect uses your phone or mobile device as a form of edge storage, as the AR is on your device. If the AR had to connect to a cloud server, it wouldn’t appear to you in real time.
Of course, we will start seeing it more in self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles as they begin to emerge and become mainstream. We will also see it with the Internet of Things, streamlining networked smart homes to react faster than they do when connected to a single central cloud server.
The Future of Data Storage
As we rely more and more on digital data storage, edge computing is the next logical step. This technology will make networked systems more responsive, and take some of the load off of cloud storage servers. Thus, it allows them to function as long-term data storage rather than trying to use a higher latency system real-time networking.
Cloud and edge computing both have their place in the digital storage world. What we need to do now is figure out how to make them work together seamlessly.