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Keeping Up with Real-Time Responsiveness via Edge Computing

By Jaheer Abbas, Senior Sales Director SE Asia & India, Limelight Networks

 Malaysian enterprise spending on cloud services and cloud-enabling hardware, software and services will reach US$621 million (MYR2.5 billion) by 2021[1], according to research firm, IDC Malaysia. While cloud computing has achieved widespread adoption and sees an upwards trend in Malaysia, many organisations are bumping up against the limitations of its centralised nature.

How is this so? For some applications, moving processing power from a central location to the edge of the last-mile networks is critical to success. For these applications, milliseconds matter. A centralised cloud architecture, for all its power, can’t keep up with the real-time responsiveness demanded by today’s connected devices. While traditional cloud computing will continue to play an important role in the technology ecosystem, we still need to look into reducing the latency that arises when data travels significant distances between the user or the source of data and the compute resources (or application) in the data center.

On top of that, organisations also face the pressures of implementing new technologies that demand sub-second response times, an explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data, and user expectations for consistent high-quality online experiences.

The solution: edge computing, a new architecture that addresses these challenges. It dramatically improves the user experience by moving processing power from a central point to the network “edge,” closer to the source, or more specifically, next to the last-mile internet connection. Data no longer has to wind its way through the internet back to a central location that, in most cases, is not close to the device or user.

What’s Driving the Proliferation of Edge Computing Today?

 Organisations have flocked to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions because they provide fully managed services in an attractive OpEx model. They no longer have the significant up-front costs and hassles of buying, installing, configuring, monitoring, maintaining and upgrading hardware and software in the data center. However, depending on data usage patterns, transfer and transaction costs can add up to a significant percentage of the monthly invoice — to the surprise of many organisations.

In addition, modern cloud computing centralises processing for applications in cloud-based mega data centers. As a result, the distance between the data center and the user or data source can create significant problems, depending on the application’s latency requirements and the user expectations.

That’s not all. Today, drones, security cameras, cars, healthcare monitors, industrial robots, and a host of other devices incorporating IoT sensors generate vast amounts of data that is tremendously valuable, especially at the moment of its creation. The challenge is figuring out how to process the data quickly enough to derive maximum value from all of the information that is generated. While the cloud excels at performing complex computations, sending the data from each device to the cloud for processing is simply too slow. When milliseconds matter, taking too long to process the data makes it useless.

Let’s take healthcare as an example. A healthcare facility may have thousands of IoT devices such as patient monitors that constantly collect patient data. Edge computing quickly processes that data as it comes off the sensors to filter and analyse it in real time. It can then send out alerts for things that require immediate attention, filter out the “junk” data to reduce the amount of bandwidth used and data that needs to be stored, or identify patterns quickly, allowing faster response to issues.

Once the data center at the edge performs these functions, all or a portion of the data is sent to the central processing or storage repository in the corporate data center, colocation facility or IaaS cloud. The cloud-based data center, as a centralised repository, can provide the necessary data sets to derive patterns and conclusions about the data collected. By deploying edge computing, the healthcare facility can share the analytical resources across multiple facilities.

Seizing the Power of Edge Compute

Today, many large corporations are harnessing the power of edge compute. We foresee this approach gaining traction with larger global IT service providers first before the rest, as they have more internal resources available to deploy and maintain their own on-premise data centers. Here are four areas on how leading companies are putting this technology to use:

Video Surveillance and Life Safety. A company performs video surveillance and incidence detection across many locations. It must ingest and process large amounts of data instantly to detect potential security events as quickly as possible. A comprehensive edge computing solution gives the company the necessary compute capability and responsiveness plus extensive last-mile connectivity across multiple ISPs, without a large CapEx investment.

Online Gaming. An online gaming company needs to provide the fastest possible online response times to its interactive gaming customers to maximise user experience. By utilising distributed edge compute resources located close to its users that are tied together with a private backbone and connected to all the major ISPs and end-user networks, gamers enjoy the fastest real-time and interactive online gaming experiences that keep them coming back for more.

IOT Industrial Inspection and Monitoring. One company uses drones and robots to inspect infrastructure such as pipelines and power lines. It must ingest and process large amounts of data in real time to identify anomalies that require further investigation. Edge computing resources geographically located near the inspection sites provide real-time processing and analysis that reduce costs of manual inspection and minimise downtime.

Implementing Edge Computing; What is Required

While the benefits of edge computing are tremendous, developing, deploying, and operating your own edge computing environment is a major undertaking that requires a significant financial investment as well as deep technical expertise. The process is time consuming, costly, and demands considerable expertise while diverting valuable time and resources from core business activities.

 Establishing last-mile connections. Users, and by extension their devices, are always on the move and are constantly connecting to different Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Building robust, reliable connections in a global market that enables a service to connect with all of the ISPs in a region is time-consuming, expensive, and can be a major distraction for an organisation that needs to focus on other business-critical issues. Solution: organisations can look for established and comprehensive network of last-mile service providers to efficiently service end users.

Building a backbone. The network backbone allows edge sites to connect to cloud instances of compute and to each other for failover/business continuity or to share data sets and unify distributed edge computing assets. Implementing the backbone requires finding a telco provider and provisioning a physical circuit, a process that can take several months. Again, this forces the organisation to shift resources from developing and marketing its product to building out an infrastructure.

Building the data center. Colocation facilities simplify data center build outs, but the process still requires significant planning, budget, and effort to establish a production environment. Elapsed time from contract to ‘go-live’ is measured in weeks or months – even for a relatively simple deployment.

Security. Relying on the public internet to support your critical IoT workflows can cause major challenges. When your applications are connected across multiple physical locations or you need to aggregate edge data to a centralised cloud compute facility, internet congestion and slowdowns can significantly impact your success. In addition, using the internet exposes your critical data to potential security issues, increasing your business risk. According to Neil Glazebrook Director of Product Management for Edge Compute and IoT at Limelight Networks, this is even more important for enterprises that manage critical information such as insights from smart city sensors, video from surveillance cameras, or IPSec tunnels.

Towards Sub-Second Response Times and Improved Customer Experiences

Edge computing offers a powerful new solution for applications that demand sub-second response times. By putting the compute power at the edge of the network, organisations can dramatically reduce latency and significantly improve user experiences. To increase efficiency, reduce unplanned downtime, improve customer experiences, and drive innovation, IoT business owners need an infrastructure that has the local capacity to securely and reliably ingest all of this data, no matter where it is being generated or consumed.

By turning to the right edge cloud services, organisations can easily leverage the benefits of a private, high performance edge compute solution and focus on building their business rather than building out a network.

[1] https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prAP43549918




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