Opportunities on the edge

Issue 9 2020 Editor's Choice, IT infrastructure

The ability of organisations to realise business value from data increasingly depends on their capacity to collect, process, store and analyse it at the edge, new research from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, suggests.

As networks become increasingly congested with huge volumes of data generated from user and IoT devices, IT leaders are recognising that analysing real-time data nearer to the edge yields greater efficiencies and insights, which results in improved business outcomes. According to a global study of 2400 IT decision-makers (ITDMs), 72% are already actively using edge technologies to deliver new outcomes, with another 16% planning to do so in the next year. There is also a growing recognition (82%) of the urgency around the need to implement integrated systems to handle data at the edge.

Moreover, the maturity of a company’s deployment at the edge is strongly correlated with its ability to derive value from the data collected from devices. 78% of ITDMs in production deployments with edge technologies said they were in a position to use this data to improve business decisions or processes. That compares with just 42% of ITDMs who are only at the pilot stage and 31% who are planning pilots in the next year.

“This research suggests that the vast majority of IT leaders are already embracing the edge or are preparing to,” said Partha Narasimhan, CTO and HPE Senior Fellow for Aruba. “Developing an edge strategy against the backdrop of existing cloud implementations is becoming a necessity as the number of connected devices increases and it becomes impractical to transfer vast volumes of data to a cloud or data centre environment, especially as organisations undergo digital transformation to advance their business objectives and address customer needs.”

The survey findings form part of a report entitled ‘At the Edge of Change: Navigating the New Data Era’ (https://connect.arubanetworks.com/Edge-Survey-Report) that assesses the implications of the shift in data processing from cloud to edge, how ITDMs are responding to this trend, the opportunities the edge presents for a number of major industries and the critical role networking plays in this transformation.

Organisations are drowning in data, yet see the edge as a solution

The benefits of edge technologies are becoming increasingly important as ITDMs grapple with the growing amounts of data generated within their networks and look towards the cost and latency advantages of storing and processing it at the edge.

• 33% of ITDMs globally said “there is too much data for our systems to handle” and 28% stated that “we cannot process the data quickly enough to take action.”

• Almost a quarter also highlighted problems with budget (23%), a lack of skills (23%), and an inability to collect data from so many different sources (21%).

• Over half (55%) of ITDMs globally recognise “much faster data processing” as a result of optimising machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) on their networks.

Boosting efficiency and creating new experiences

ITDMs cite a variety of benefits from capturing and analysing data at the edge, from operational efficiencies to the opportunity to create new products, services and revenue streams.

• 53% of ITDMs highlighted “improving operational efficiency and costs” as one of the biggest benefits of capturing and acting upon data from user devices and 47% cited “increasing workforce productivity.”

• In parallel, 44% of respondents believe the data gives them deeper customer insights, 40% cited the opportunity to create “new differentiated products, services, revenue streams and business models” and 40% highlighted the potential for personalised service delivery.

• ITDMs are focused on utilising the edge to improve safety, visibility and the customer experience. By sector, the most popular edge use cases were tracking and monitoring individual items through the supply chain in retail (51%), the use of facial recognition in the hotels/hospitality industry (49%) and improving healthcare providers’ experience with always-on tools and applications (49%).

Concerns over cost, skills and security abound

While ITDMs show a growing interest in processing and analysing data at the edge, they are also concerned about various barriers to adoption.

• 32% of ITDMs pointed to a lack of expertise, skill or understanding with regard to edge technologies as top concerns. Notably, the overwhelming majority (92%) think they are missing at least some skills needed to help their organisation unlock the value of data. That rises to 98% and 99% of ITDMs in the government and hotels/hospitality sectors respectively.

• AI and machine learning skills (43%), analytical skills (41%) and technical skills (37%) ranked highest in terms of areas of expertise that companies are lacking.

• Overall, there were mixed feelings about the security implications of the edge. While 57% of ITDMs said that connecting IoT or user devices at the edge had made or would make their businesses more vulnerable, 47% identified improved security as one of the biggest benefits of capturing data from user devices.

Bridging edge to cloud

As businesses continue to increase their dependence upon data, it is critical that it is analysed and processed at the source of collection reliably and securely. Traditional network architectures and operational processes built to support the cloud and mobility era need to adapt to these new requirements.

As organisations begin to consider harnessing the power of their data and building an edge infrastructure, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind for a successful implementation:

• Unify – The edge incorporates all network domains including wired, wireless and SD-WAN; and all locations including campus, branch, data centre and remote worker environments. Network operations teams should only consider solutions that can manage all domains and locations from a cloud-native, single pane of glass that can centralise and correlate all cross-domain events and operations.

• Automate – Network uptime and performance are critical at the edge. Network operations teams should only consider solutions that provide reliable, highly accurate and specific AI-powered insights, and automation that can resolve issues more quickly, before they impact the business or users.

• Protect – The proliferation of IoT devices generating the data that fuels new business outcomes also presents new security challenges. Network operations teams should consider solutions that use AI to detect, classify and continuously monitor these devices and work seamlessly with access control solutions to automatically place devices in centralised policies that ensure they remain secure and only communicate with predetermined resources.

“Harnessing insights at the edge is an opportunity for enterprises to revolutionise their approach to data and unlock its value as a business asset,” concludes Narasimhan. “Organisations that can process, store and analyse data at the edge will be able to use that data first to optimise their existing business model, and over time, will develop innovative products, services and experiences that will not only augment, but transform their offerings for customers and employees.”

Edge in the enterprise

• 72% of global IT leaders are already actively using edge technologies to deliver new outcomes and those with more mature edge deployments are more likely to be gaining business value from data by using it to inform decisions and processes.

• 82% described their need for an integrated system to handle data at the edge as “very” or “somewhat” urgent.

• 92% of ITDMs are missing key skills to unlock the value of data, while 57% think connecting devices at the edge makes their network more vulnerable.

For more information, go to www.arubanetworks.com

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