Like other hot new areas of enterprise tech, edge computing is a broad architectural concept rather than a specific set of solutions. Primarily, edge computing is applied to low-latency situations where compute power must be close to the action, whether that activity is industrial IoT robots flinging widgets or sensors continuously taking the temperature of vaccines in production. The research firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that by 2022, 90 percent of industrial enterprises will employ edge computing.

Edge computing is a form of distributed computing that extends beyond the data center mothership. When you think about it, how else should enterprises invest in the future? Yes, we know that a big chunk of that investment will go to the big public cloud providers – but hardware and software that enterprises own and operate isn’t going away. So why not physically distribute it where the business needs it most?

Augmenting the operational systems of a company’s business on location – where manufacturing or healthcare or logistical operations reside – using the awesome power of modern servers can deliver all kinds of business value. Typically, edge computing nodes collect gobs of data from instrumented operational systems, process it, and send only the results to the mothership, vastly reducing data transmission costs. Embedded in those results are opportunities for process improviment, supply chain optimization, predictive analytics, and more.

CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, and Network World have joined forces to examine edge computing from five different perspectives. These articles help demonstrate that this emerging, complex area is attracting some of the most intriguing new thinking and technology development today.

The many sides of the edge

Edge computing may be relatively new on the scene, but it’s already having a transformational impact. In “4 essential edge-computing use cases,” Network World’s Ann Bednarz unpacks four examples that highlight the immediate, practical benefits of edge computing, beginning with an activity about as old-school as it gets: freight train inspection. Automation via digital cameras and onsite image processing not only vastly reduces inspection time and cost, but also helps improve safety by enabling problems to be identified faster. Bednarz goes on to pinpoint edge computing benefits in the hotel, retail, and mining industries.

CIO contributing editor Stacy Collett trains her sights on the gulf between IT and those in OT (operational technology) who concern themselves with core, industry-specific systems – and how best to bridge that gap. Her article “Edge computing’s epic turf war” illustrates that improving communication between IT and OT, and in some cases forming hybrid IT/OT groups, can eliminate redundancies and spark creative new initiatives.

One frequent objection on the OT side of the house is that IoT and edge computing expose industrial systems to unprecedented risk of malicious attack. CSO contributing writer Bob Violino addresses that problem in “Securing the edge: 5 best practices.” One key recommendation is to implement zero trust security, which mandates persistent authentication and micro-segmentation, so a successful attack in one part of an organization can be isolated rather than spreading to critical systems.

Computerworld contributing writer Keith Shaw examines the role of 5G in “Edge computing and 5G give business apps a boost.” One of 5G’s big selling points is its low latency, a useful attribute for connecting IoT devices. But as IDC research director Dave McCarthy explains in the article, the reduction in latency won’t help you when you’re connecting to a far-flung data center. On the other hand, if you deploy “edge computing into the 5G network, it minimizes this physical distance, greatly improving response times,” he says.

In case you’re wondering, the hyperscale cloud providers aren’t taking this edge stuff lying down. In “Amazon, Google, and Microsoft take their clouds to the edge,” InfoWorld contributing editor Isaac Sacolick digs into the early-stage edge computing offerings now available from the big three, including mini-clouds deployed in various localities as well as their exiting on-prem offerings (such as AWS Outposts or Azure Stack) that are fully managed by the provider. Sacolick writes that “the unique benefit public cloud edge computing offers is the ability to extend underlying cloud architecture and services.”

The crazy variety of edge computing offerings and use cases covers such a wide range, it begins to sound like, well, computing. As many have noted, the “big cloud” model is reminiscent of the old mainframe days, when customers tapped into centralized compute and storage through terminals rather than browsers. Edge computing recognizes that not everything can or should be centralized. And the inventive variations on that simple notion are playing a key role in shaping the next generation of computing.

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