What is edge computing?
Edge computing refers to a solution where data processing, analysis and in some cases, actions, occur close to the place where the data originated. Edge computing often relies on a sporadic connection to cloud computing systems, although some setups similarly connect to nearby devices — in which case the systems might be referred to as part of the Internet of Things (Internet of Things - Physical objects with the ability to connect and exchange data with each other over the Internet. A network of objects that are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software, to connect to and exchange data with other such objects or networks.). Edge computing solutions operate in circumstances where current cloud computing systems won’t suffice, due to one or more of the following concerns:
- large quantities of data
- network connectivity constraints
- network Time required to send data over two points in a network. limitations
- data privacy priorities
Wherever you encounter one or more of the above four constraints, you’ll also find an example of an edge computing solution. Machines, such as autonomous cars or industrial robots, generate huge quantities of data and act with low latency. Some agricultural systems operate in areas that lack high-bandwidth network connections. Within buildings, various environmental, security and transit systems all benefit from the ability to sense, analyze and respond immediately, independent of cloud systems. And in healthcare, many organizations prefer to maintain as much patient data on-site as possible.
Structurally, you might think of edge-cloud computing as a modern incarnation of client-server computing. The two systems share a common concept: An independent, capable computing device (i.e., the legacy client or modern edge device) that can connect to a more powerful system (i.e., the legacy server or modern cloud). Of course, the capabilities, number, scale, and details of client-server and edge-cloud systems differ, but that general concept provides a useful initial framework as you seek to understand the field.
Companies apply the term “edge computing” to refer to a diverse set of networking technologies, devices (processing and storage systems), applications and data systems. Edge computing solutions from established companies tend to reflect each vendor’s established expertise: Chip companies promote processing, networking companies discuss connectivity, software vendors point to machine learning and development platforms, and hardware makers emphasize devices. But even within these categories, offerings vary widely: Edge computing devices, for example, run the range from small and IoT devices to relatively robust cloud-system-in-a-box data center devices.
The companies covered below represent only a small sampling of the hundreds of companies active in the edge computing space. I placed each of the selected companies into categories — cloud, processors, equipment & integration and software & platforms — to provide some indication of each company’s broad area of strength, although some companies compete in several of these categories. The companies below are ones I encourage you to watch as edge computing solutions evolve.