What you need to know about edge computing

woman using laptop with large computer server

Tuesday, 4 February, 2020

If you’re not familiar with the computing industry, it can be hard to make sense of industry jargon.

Internet-based services are particularly laden with acronyms and shorthand. HTTP, HTML, VPN, VPS…the list goes on.

During the last decade, industry watchers spoke excitedly about new concepts like cloud computing and the Internet of Things. And now the phrase ‘edge computing’ has emerged.

But what does it all mean?

Ahead in the clouds

To explain why edge computing is so significant, we need to consider the other two phrases mentioned in the last paragraph.

Cloud computing refers to actions which are delegated to off-site IT servers, rather than being managed on a local device.

A good example would be social media platforms. Although an installed app acts as the interface, content is downloaded over the internet rather than being stored on a phone or PC.

Storing files in the cloud has become common practice thanks to storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive.

These platforms rely on a stable and moderately fast internet connection. If a device is offline, it can’t access content, which is why Chromebooks are largely useless without WiFi.

The same is true for Internet of Things devices – any electronic appliance capable of autonomously uploading and downloading data.

Examples of IoT hardware include smart speakers, wearable fitness gadgets, web-controlled home heating and domestic security systems.

However, there can often be a delay between an IoT device requesting information and a response arriving.

This is known as latency, and it also affects cloud services along sluggish copper phone lines or connections with insufficient bandwidth to accommodate traffic volumes.

Edge computing has become a hot topic because it’s an affordable and relatively simple way of tackling latency.

Edge of reason

Edge computing restores an individual device’s ability to process information, instead of the modern vogue of delegating everything to a distant server.

Although some information will be accessed via a server, it’ll be analysed and interpreted on the local machine – your tablet or laptop, for instance.

This is significant for several reasons:

Although edge computing promises modest advantages to private individuals, the greatest benefits will be felt by organisations providing internet-based services.

Economies of scale quickly mount up, especially in areas like predictive maintenance.

Imagine a factory where faulty hardware is instantly identified and flagged up to on-site staff, rather than being reported to an overseas data centre.

The efficiency (and cost) savings could be huge, and may be passed onto consumers.

As a result, you can expect to hear a lot more about edge computing in the coming years.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!