This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Kurt Michel, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Veea
Prior to the pandemic, the primary drivers of 5G were mobile broadband and the Internet-of-Things (IoT). IoT continues to fuel a need for massive device connectivity and data growth. However, with the pandemic, the demand for 5G solutions is accelerating. Both businesses and consumers want faster, high capacity networks that provide ultrareliable, ultra-low-latency connectivity. Fast broadband is no longer a nice-to-have. With remote work, distance learning, and online health an everyday reality for the foreseeable future, high-speed connectivity is now woven into our everyday lives and has become essential infrastructure in the way we work, live, and play.
As 5G builds out, there are three major challenges edge computing solves.
- Storage: Storage is relatively cheap, but if the price of storage falls by 50%, and we create 100% more data, we still have a problem. Data is only as useful as the knowledge we can extract from it. Rather than shipping all of that data somewhere for storage and future processing, we need to process the data as close to real-time as possible, and compress it into meaningful knowledge that can be stored more efficiently.
- Bandwidth: Moving all of the collected data from every device back to a central cloud has a cost. By processing the data as close as possible to the sources, and only passing relevant events to the data center, tremendous savings can be gained. This includes not only the cost of the bandwidth itself, but also in the need to continually build out infrastructure capacity to handle it.
- Responsiveness: Some decision-making is “real-time” and processed in milliseconds. Manufacturing control systems, robotics, autonomous vehicles, access controls, live human interaction, AI applications, and augmented reality/virtual reality systems require localized processing to deliver an essential level of responsiveness. Centralized clouds, which may be hundreds or thousands of miles from the data source can be plagued by network congestion or server capacity and scaling issues.
Adding compute capabilities as close as possible to where devices are generating the data, and where control and decision-making is required makes good sense. It doesn’t replace cloud computing, it complements the data center cloud and extends it closer to the user.
Once additional edge processing is in place, new applications previously considered unrealistic will emerge. However, this will only happen if the industry considers the edge processing capacity as an addition to the core capacity – not a replacement. That means software architects will have to consider the combined processing capacity of the core and the edge as a whole, and partition their systems to take advantage of the unique and complementary benefits of each. By designing solutions for easy, modular portability between edge and cloud resources, they will make it possible to find an optimal mix, which dynamically shift based on both short and long-term demands. Microservices in container-based systems will be an important part of a successful edge computing strategy.
As software becomes more distributed, hardware also becomes multi-functional. It doesn’t make sense to replicate mini datacenters at the edge. Racks of servers in a hyperscale datacenter makes sense, but as we move processing closer to the consumer, greater hardware functional integration is required, so that operators and their support teams are not overwhelmed by the number of different elements and physically distributed failure points that are being created. 5G, by virtue of its higher radio frequency and shorter reach, demands more physical access points than 4G. We will need to look for ways to add processing capabilities to the locations where the access infrastructure exists.
Together, 5G and edge computing will contribute to an evolution of the current computing paradigm, giving businesses cost-effective options for new applications and services, and smart buildings and cities a more efficient way to operate.
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