As computing technology became part of our lives, the mainframe computer was created. This held all the processing power and all the data, and users accessed it through a “dumb” terminal. Next came the PC, the complete opposite. All processing power and data storage took place within the box on your desk or, later, the laptop in your bag. As technology developed and more digital products became available, we moved on to the cloud. This is where we are at the moment. We all have devices that are capable of a certain amount of processing and data storage, but the majority is done in the cloud. Data is stored for our convenience, to be accessed whenever we want. Office 365, Gmail (Google Workspace), Dropbox and so on are all examples of cloud-based services that have become staples of our computing lives.
Edge Computing – The Next Big Thing
However, computing is always looking for the ‘Next Big Thing’. It seems that edge computing will be it. The big companies that provide cloud services such as Amazon (with an astonishing 47% market share), IBM, Google, and Microsoft have realised that virtually everything that can be put into the cloud has been. Now these companies are looking at the “edges” of the cloud. If that sounds to you more like a geographical term than a computing one, you’d be right. Edge computing is literally about bringing processing closer to the user by putting the capability on the edges of the cloud.
Edge Computing Advantages
The edge of the cloud is so attractive as it has the potential to accelerate the speed of computing to a considerable degree. In the most simple terms, when you ask a question, for example of Google, from your desk in London it may well ping across to a Google cloud datacentre in Oregon, be processed and ping back. This all happens at the speed of light, so you will only experience minuscule latency.
However, if you are undertaking more complex endeavours, using edge computing could provide enormous speed improvements. Examples could include asking for speech to be processed and translated, or playing a game with multiple thousands of instructions being launched every second. Future devices may by necessity have to be “edge” devices, having much of their processing on board. For example, with current technology, a self-driving car would never be able to send enough information quickly enough to a cloud datacenter to be completely controlled by it. Much of the processing will have to be done on the edge, i.e., within the car.
Another advantage of edge computing is that privacy is greatly enhanced. When the processing is nearer to your personal use, there is less chance of malicious actors interfering with it. A perfect example of this is the security on your mobile device. Effectively, they are with you and under your control and nobody else can access them without your fingerprint, password, voice recognition etc. Very different to your data floating in the cloud. Additionally, edge computing can save bandwidth by devices deciding at the “edge”. I.e. point of use, what data is needed and what is not, so you don’t clog up your bandwidth sending information to the cloud that you will never need.
Edge Computing Disadvantages
The drawback to all the advantages listed above is that it hands ever more power to giant tech corporations. No longer are they simply controlling your data in the cloud. They are pushing out to the edge, bringing their control into your personal environment. Controlling your heating system, ordering your shopping, responding to you through your mobile device, etc. It must be hoped that this is done benevolently, for its advantages for users. Let’s hope it is not in such a way as to bring us further under Big Tech’s control. Computing on the edge, yes, over the edge, no.