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Living on the edge

As industry continues to encompass data analytics, artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies edge computing will became a vital tool in the IT armoury

Edge computing is now a fundamental tenet of IT infrastructure, it is literally pushing boundaries by redefining today’s modern data centre. Forward thinking organisations are always looking to progress by utilising the latest technology developments, and as part of this, we are seeing a move towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to gain data driven insights. However, it’s important that the underpinning IT infrastructure can support new applications and still forms a critical part of the business strategy. So how can organisations modernise their data centres and take the next step in today’s digital transformation?

Jason Collier, founder at Scale Computing explains that a key component to transforming the data centre is edge computing, as it offers a unique way to work to take advantage of the benefits around AI and IoT. “Although the term is new, the concept has been around for a while as it encompasses the needs of many remote and branch offices,” he says. “As a broad definition, edge computing can be defined as computing that takes place outside of the typical data centre, meaning IT infrastructure is closer to where the data is created and used. Many smaller, remote locations such as hospitals, trains, ships, manufacturing facilities, retail organisations, and oil rigs have operated in this way for a long time. However, the rise in AI and IoT has created a new and fresh demand in a way that will allow organisations to gain quicker and faster data insights.”

As data-driven applications grow, there is a demand for speed and instant access to information, this is what will give organisations that competitive edge. “By utilising edge computing and bringing data closer to the source there is a noticeable impact in performance and speed,” Collier adds. “Traditional data centres are often far away from IoT and AI devices, and although cloud computing bridges this gap in terms of distance, it relies on a good connection and can often come with latency challenges. Edge computing eliminates this by providing on-site micro data centres, where data is analysed and stored on the individual device. By analysing data at the edge of the network, organisations can deliver the real-time performance these applications need.”

The cloud has already changed the way organisations work and the role of the data centre, but it will not fully replace the need for on-premises IT. “We are still discovering how the rise of IoT and AI will consume cloud computing and on-site data centres as organisations are still at the start of their journey,” Collier continues. “But, the need for modern on-premises data centres that can help organisations to utilise the benefits is apparent. The cloud has many benefits, especially scalability and elasticity, however, when it comes to real-time fast insight without latency, the cloud also has its drawbacks. Take for example IoT devices in remote locations, without a strong internet connection, sending and retrieving information will come with latency challenges.”

As IoT and AI applications grow, and we start to demand faster and quicker insights, edge computing will become more important. For example, as we head into the digital transformation and start to encounter smart cities and driverless cars, these will require continuous data insight and fast performance. Organisations that are prepared now and have the infrastructure in place to support these performance driven applications will be ahead of the curve in utilising the benefits.

“Micro data centres are a big part of fulfilling this need,” Collier says. “It is essentially a data centre scaled down to operate on site and suit a specific business model. For these applications that require more fine-tuned performance and speed, local on-premises computing resources can meet the demand. An edge computing strategy may well encompass some cloud element, but it will certainly include on-premises IT.

“It’s also critical to ensure the underlining micro data centre can fully support the organisations demands. Opting for IT that provides simplified management, easy and rapid deployment, high availability and remote management are core. These are key components that any IoT device will need and should be encompassed in the micro data centre. As IoT grows, it’s important to ensure IT staff won’t have to manage multiple devices, spend hours deploying the IT and can manage it remotely – otherwise when the few IoT device turn into multiples, hundreds or even thousands it will become time intensive.”

As organisations look to integrate with more IoT and AI developments, the demands of edge computing will become more prevalent. IT infrastructure is a component that is getting a lot more attention as IT continues to grow and encompass every area of business and operation. We are still at the start of this journey and being able to implement a strategy now will put innovative organisations in good stead.

“Cloud, IoT, and edge computing all have very real and critical roles to play in both modern and future IT infrastructure,” Collier concludes. “While their roles will continue to evolve, each is a growing part of the IT industry and hybrid IT infrastructures that adopt and combine these different technologies will have a competitive advantage over those that do not. Just as these technologies continue to evolve, so will the ways they’ll continue to intersect.”

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