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The Intelligent Edge: Real Benefits from the Continuum Between Cloud and Things

By Dr. Mung Chiang

As the IoT expands into every corner of the world, there is no question that intelligent edge architecture is critical to ensure the viability of the enterprise. And not just critical, but unavoidable. 

While traditional enterprises have embraced the cloud computing paradigm, significant computing resources still need to be deployed locally to handle tasks that are not suitable for the cloud, or augment the work of the cloud.

A distinguishing characteristic of the IoT is that there will be billions of devices generating exabytes of data, but they will have little computational ability of their own.

There is no feasible architecture that could get that data to a central data center, process it, and get the pertinent results back to the devices in any reasonable amount of time. The network bandwidth requirements would be prohibitive, assuming the capacity existed at all.

Why Edge Has Momentum

But the world of industrial control systems demands latency of real-time or near real-time, certainly no more than a few milliseconds. Consider drone flight control, autonomous vehicle-to-vehicle communications, or smart city emergency systems. These requirements fall well outside what traditional cloud architectures can bring to the table.

At the core of this very real challenge are the decisions about where to compute and where to store data on a substrate of variably available nodes. We can view this as a service continuum between the cloud and the things.

To understand the edge deployment hierarchy, take the simple example of a cell phone providing the intelligent edge for a user's wearable devices, such as a Fit Bit.  When that user is in her car, the car can become the edge for the phone, allowing many functions to be moved to the vehicle. Roadside traffic control equipment can in turn provide edge services to the car, providing both computational resources and additional functionality.

The Future of Edge

Intelligent edge computing needs to be viewed as a complement to the cloud, and can be characterized along three main dimensions:

1.      Carrying out a substantial amount of data storage at or near the end user.

2.      Carrying out a substantial amount of computing and control functions at or near the end user.

3.      Carrying out a substantial amount of communications and networking at or near the end user.

Numerous challenges lie ahead - not only the network bandwidth constraints, latency requirements and resource-constrained devices, but the numerous security challenges and unique user requirements due to the fact that much of the IoT will be comprised of physical systems.  

Over time, cloud and intelligent edge could very well converge into unified end-to-end platforms offering integrated services that combine resources in the cloud, the intelligent edge and the IoT.

Open Edge Symposium: A Collaborative Forum

Toward that end, the upcoming Open Edge Symposium (formerly Fog World Congress) will be important in a number of ways. In addition to providing a forum for industry, academia and research to work together, it will also provide a wide range of intelligent edge tutorial sessions to drive innovation, clarify misconceptions, and bring people involved in the intelligent edge ecosystem up to speed on the latest research, technical developments and industry implementations.

There will be three key conference tracks available at the Symposium:

1.      The conference's Advances in Innovation Track will explore and expound the research and standardization activities and opportunities on intelligent edge within industrial processes for IoT, AI/ML and connectivity.

2.      The Technical Track will delve into questions around the impact of technology on edge computing. Emerging technologies, such as 5G, distributed computing/storage, AI/ML/DL, big data, and blockchain will play a large role. Evaluating best practices for implementing edge applications, platforms, and environments will be key.

3.      The Business Outcomes Track will focus on real-world use cases that have delivered a business impact to a company/industry. Sessions in this track will showcase how these companies are leveraging the intelligent edge to their competitive advantage.

Given that we are in the position of creating the architecture that will empower this next generation of computing and allow the IoT to flourish to its full potential, these sessions and subsequent conversations and collaborations take on an even greater significance.

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About the Author

Dr. Chiang is the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering at Purdue University. He is the Founding Director of the Princeton Edge Lab. A founder of the OpenFog Consortium, he now serves on the Steering Committee of the Industrial Internet Consortium, now incorporating OpenFog. On December 11, he will present the opening keynote address at Open Edge Symposium in Long Beach.

Published Monday, September 23, 2019 8:21 AM by David Marshall
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