To help us measure the level of importance, we’re introducing the Matrix Importance Scale. (MIS).

  • 1. Yawn: Don’t waste your time unless you’re bored
  • 2. Interesting: Could be good to know just in case
  • 3. Useful: Keep an eye on this, but nothing you need to do now
  • 4. Important: You definitely need to know about this - now
  • 5. Critical: What do you mean you haven’t started implementing this?

Yes, we are having a bit of fun with the scale, but we’re serious about what we’re saying. We want to make sure you’re not wasting time on areas that will have little impact on your network or your business, while at the same time drawing attention to areas you should be working on.

We’re kicking this series off with a look at edge computing, or the Edge. It may not be the name of the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but its powers can be pretty impressive - and you shouldn’t underestimate its abilities to deliver some amazing results. However, great powers don't come without some drawbacks.

So, here’s the deal on the Edge. In its simplest form, it’s where the smart data processing takes place - at the device, or on the edge of your network - before the data makes its way to any data lake, server or cloud. It performs some analysis of the information and then makes some decisions on what to do with it in real time, which could be an intervention, an action or redirection to a data centre.

The Edge works by having device data pass to (and through) an edge gateway, which would sit near the device. That gateway (or the originating device itself) could do some of the processing and send only relevant data back over the network to the server that could be in another city or country. Having this compute power close to the source allows the analysis, processing and decision making to take place in real time with no latency.

The concept of edge computing isn’t new so why the fuss now?

The growing attention can be largely attributed to demand for real-time compute created by the likes of IoT and AI, and the rise of 5G technologies. IoT devices transmit large amounts of data and during early adoption, networks and data centres could manage the volume but as more devices are operationalised, it’s causing bandwidth pressure and performance issues.

AI practices also demand high processing power, low latency and real-time analysis. As we know, investment in AI is on a steep upward trajectory and use cases range from simple ones like security cameras and sensors, through to high end ones like detection of suspicious skin marks in healthcare, or automation and robotics. Again, when data processing takes place close to the device it allows for real-time decision making which can lead to significant business outcomes.

And 5G? Well, it is connecting data at super-fast speeds in areas not reachable by cable or Wi-Fi and this is allowing the Edge to take on new use cases - another driving force in its rise in popularity.

How is the Edge going to help businesses?

Cost and bandwidth will be big factors. The ability to perform some analysis at the device level alleviates the pressure of sending data in and out for processing - meaning greater network capacity and reduced network demand. However, it’s not all cost savings. You do need to be mindful that all those IoT devices will still send data back at some point (potentially a lot of data) so as you add more and more edge devices you may need some extra backhaul, depending on the application, to stay ahead of the demand for bandwidth.

Low latency though is the main winner. Simply put, the Edge helps you make better decisions, faster, and will enable a new world of possibilities. If you’re thinking about automating threat detection on security cameras, introducing autonomous vehicles to carry cargo, or any form of robotics - accuracy and timeliness is critical. The ability to compute in real time means interventions can take place almost immediately and value realised instantly.

Chances are your company isn’t quite in a position to be introducing robotics or autonomous vehicles just yet so the Edge use cases you do have may not change the way you manage or think about your network today, But as with most new technology, it’s only a matter of time until it will have an impact on the way we design networks and deploy devices.

So, what do you need to watch out for? Security is obviously the big one. Like any device you’re bringing to your network, you need to ensure it has the appropriate controls so it doesn’t compromise your organisation. If edge computing is to be widely adopted, and let’s face it, the power to deliver some critical business outcomes is very attractive, you need to consider the impact on your risk profile.

Each edge device will have varying levels of processing power, different connectivity requirements and locations. These will all create variables in how you manage data security, especially if more devices are added to the network. How you govern, encrypt and back up the information will need to be carefully considered also.

What’s the score?

We’re giving the Edge a Matrix Importance Score of 3 – Useful: Keep an eye on this, but nothing you need to do now. Connecting a few security cameras or other simple IoT devices won’t drive the need to make major network changes yet, but there will come a tipping point as new use cases or possibilities emerge for your business, and then you’ll need to take notice. As long as you have the right security approach for these devices right now, you’ll be ok and can afford to bide your time.