It's Time to Bring the Digital Workplace to the Edge
Edge computing has become a big business, with Statista forecasting global revenue set to reach $274 billion by 2025. This should come as no surprise. When augmented with artificial intelligence and 5G capabilities, edge computing can help analyze data effectively, efficiently and in real-time, with minimum network latency and server failures. This can further help businesses with enhanced privacy, security, scalability and resiliency.
"Businesses look to gain benefits such as new core business functions and capabilities as well as the improvement of monitoring, response and site reliability from their edge strategy," the Statista report reads.
Digital Transformation and Edge Computing
To achieve digital transformation, businesses need a network that meets their speed, capacity, low-latency, security and reliability requirements.
Chris Bastian, senior vice president and CTO of SCTE, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, said having the right underlying technology is critical to the process of digitalization. Organizations must be able to rely on a host of applications and services that allow them to meet present day operations as well as transform into a future-leaning enterprise.
That's where edge computing comes in. “Edge computing provided by the network operator moves the services closer to the end-user, whereby reducing latency and improving reliability,” Bastian said.
According to Scott Brindamour, head of product innovation, edge R&D and platform enablement at Lumen Technologies, the major trends for edge right now are all about enabling new experiences and the need for real-time insights from data by distributing infrastructure capabilities closer to where it is needed.
But a much wider range of use cases for this kind of technology can be found across the enterprise.
Edge Puts Real-Time Insights Within Reach
Possibly one of the biggest benefit of edge computing is that it reduces data latency and enables companies to access insights in real-time, Brindamour said.
With customer-facing workers, edge computing gives organizations the ability to do real-time identification of the customer as they walk in through the use of app/Bluetooth beacon – IE IoT device, Brindamour said, or identify scanned items via AI-based object detection with camera and edge-based video analytics.
For the digital workplace, edge computing offers an opportunity to analyze data in near real-time, as opposed to after the fact, which helps companies deliver superior customer experience. “Having applications that can analyze data in real time can have major impacts that cannot be delivered quick enough from the cloud," he said.
Business decisions are powered by real-time data, and applications that would power, say, robotics don’t have time to travel to the public cloud to get the performance they need. Plus, applications that require high volumes of interactions, like streaming analytics, are subject to costly fees for moving that data in and out of the cloud.
“For latency-sensitive, interaction-intensive applications, data flow must be seamless and data processing lightning fast,” Brindamour said. "If a system or application takes too long to respond or put in place an action, the result will be a poor customer experience.”
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Planning for Edge Computing
Of course, the adoption of edge computing requires proper planning, and a plan for edge starts with understanding the applications and data that the company has today, and the applications and data capabilities that it needs for the future.
Most organizations have a roadmap to stay competitive, starting with technologies and a plan for where these applications and data need to be located. Edge is simply another execution venue that should be considered along with cloud and on-premises-based computing, Brindamour said.
Organizations should also look at the application capabilities and data that need to move from the cloud in to be closer to their users, as well as applications and data that need to move from the physical workplace out to the edge to reduce cost and increase scalability. Both options require another place to execute in a distributed and hybrid model, which is what edge is all about.
The strategy when planning for edge computing is quite simple: When you can’t get your data closer to your data center, you move your data center closer to your data.
“Edge computing offers efficiency and performance opportunities that make it an attractive alternative or complementary venue to the public cloud and offers greater scalability and lower costs than deploying all your applications and data on your premise locations,” Brindamour said.
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In theory, the digital workplace is an always-connected environment that allows employees to access their work resources from anywhere. Given that very definition, it is heavily reliant on technology that enables this kind of constant connection.
Edge computing, according to Ritesh Mukherjee, general manager of Inseego, a 5G networking and IoT solutions company, is what powers this capability.
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The deployment of edge enables businesses to streamline and digitize their workflows. Instant messaging apps, video conferencing software, document management systems, HR platforms and social networks are all tools that are part of the digital framework.
It requires a robust and ubiquitous network to be omnipresent for any of these digital tools to work. 5G and edge computing, Mukherjee said, are the perfect complements to allow all the remaining technologies to enable a digital workplace.
Mukherjee sees edge computing adding to the digital workplace in four major ways:
1. Scale: By adding 5G into the mix, Mukherjee believes organizations will be offered access to a even higher level of connectivity, allowing video conferencing and access to online tools from almost anywhere. Wired networks take time to build, are expensive and are cumbersome, he said. 5G networks cover larger areas and are easier to use.
2. Performance: The digital workplace demands lower latencies to support a good employee experience. Applications that are latency sensitive, like AR/VR and connected cars, for instance, are only practical when people are not tethered to a wired network or accessing information far away in the cloud. 5G network slicing and edge computing allows running workloads closer to the user and accessing them with guaranteed SLAs, thus allowing for near real-time experience from anywhere, Mukherjee said.
3. Security: With so much data in play, security is critical. Using private 5G networks and edge computing can help minimize risk by localizing data and computing to a particular location, which reduces the attack surface. This improves security and determinism, which are critical for several industries and particularly those in the manufacturing sector. Even public 5G networks and edge computing localize the data to a smaller area in the network, Mukherjee said.
4. Resilience: The best way for an employee to have uninterrupted connectivity is to be connected using heterogeneous networks or two different networks. According to Mukherjee, any disruption to the wired network due to a fiber cut, network error or human lapse will result in the employee going offline. 5G provides an alternate method to keep the employee connected at all times — an obvious requirement for the digital workplace.
"Even for something simple like work-from-home, 5G and edge computing can be a boon for enabling employees to access digital resources,” Mukherjee said. “It can boost or complement wired connectivity while bringing computer workloads closer to the user. 5G and edge computing are not just desirable, they are must-haves for the modern virtual digital workplace."
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The Not-so-Distant Future of Edge Computing: Connected Everything
According to Anthony Cusimano, director of technical marketing at storage firm Object First, we are quickly approaching a world where every object, every place and every person is a potential edge device in a more extensive global network.
In the past few years, he said, we have seen remarkable growth in edge devices, like drones flying by nodes in remote locations to collect data and report back to home base, or oil rigs sending information to a satellite that routes back to the hub data center.
“Technology like cell phones and Raspberry Pis have unlocked what we can do in even the most remote locations,” Cusimano said. “While many of these technologies are just seeds of potential, long-term growth will be unpredictable and astounding. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the future, the world will further integrate our tech and ourselves into edge computing.”
For the digital workplace, this means less time is spent waiting for data to become part of the larger whole, he said. 5G means edge locations no longer rely on slow networks or human transportation/data transmission.
With this technology, every machine in a factory, every vehicle in a fleet and every IoT object can take advantage of better frequencies and a more sizable number of supported devices with 5G.
About the Author
David is a European-based journalist of 35 years who has spent the last 15 following the development of workplace technologies, from the early days of document management, enterprise content management and content services. Now, with the development of new remote and hybrid work models, he covers the evolution of technologies that enable collaboration, communications and work and has recently spent a great deal of time exploring the far reaches of AI, generative AI and General AI.