Embracing edge computing

Issue 5 2023 IT infrastructure

Data has become the engine of progress. Private enterprises use it to optimise experiences, enhance operations, improve customer services and invent new business models. Governments use it to build future cities, plan for the consumption of utilities and energy resources, and manage crises such as the COVID pandemic. In South Africa, our reliance on data is growing. Our data centre market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8,6% from 2022 to 2027, with the South African data centre market valued at $1,71 billion in 2021.

However, centralised repositories for data have disadvantages, and legacy approaches for accessing insights will not work for future minded organisations. Forward thinking organisations should be planning at the edge because that is where the data is created. These new environments risk leaving those who don’t invest in the edge behind. According to Gartner, 91% of data is now processed in data centres, either in the cloud or on premises. But the analyst firm predicts that by 2025, the balance will have shifted to the edge, where 75% of all data processing will take place. In addition, IDC forecasts that global spending on edge computing will reach $317 billion by 2026.

It is clear that now is the time for South African businesses to invest in edge computing capabilities. Here are five reasons why.

1. Faster response times

Edge computing architecture places apps, data, and resources closer to where data is generated. Processing occurs at the outer reaches of an organisation’s environment instead of forcing data to make a trip ‘back to base’, which may be a data centre that is hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres away. By enabling data to be stored at the edge, organisations get faster response times and can more easily deliver real time insights. Applications at the edge will then be able to distil, process, and visualise data, displaying rich, actionable information on the spot.

This ability is critical for essential and cutting-edge applications across industries in South Africa. Manufacturing firms can deliver predictive maintenance, repairing equipment before it degrades or breaks down. Healthcare providers can monitor patient vitals remotely and, in emergency situations, information can be live streamed to the hospital from an ambulance.

Edge computing could also empower the transportation industry in South Africa by enabling efficient fleet management, intelligent traffic reporting, and predictive maintenance. By leveraging edge computing technologies, the transportation sector can become more efficient, reliable, and sustainable, benefiting both businesses and commuters. Then there is augmented reality (AR), an edge technology with applications across retail, education, and entertainment. Its intense rendering operations need real time responses to function.

2. Ensure resilient business operations

Another key benefit of edge computing is business continuity. In the event of disruption or downtime in a centralised data centre, sites at the edge can continue to operate independently since the infrastructure is local. That is just the beginning. Edge platforms allow faster, more consistent, and more reliable services, enhancing customer and employee experiences across industries and use cases.

Furthermore, many businesses fail to realise that edge computing doesn’t need to be connected. While being connected offers the benefit of getting data back to centralised data centres, faster edge computing can operate in a disconnected mode, which can be a significant advantage in more remote industries and operations. Take the example of a rural mining site. An edge system there can run autonomously if there is a drop in connection and then sync and transfer data when the connection resumes, without disrupting business operations.

Considering South Africa’s ongoing struggle with loadshedding, the benefits of combining smart grids and edge computing should be explored. Smart grids have become an essential element in enabling a stable energy market. An AI- and analytics-based smart grid can provide better forecasting and optimisation of energy production, predicting the demand for energy in advance and allowing energy producers to adjust their production accordingly. However, it also needs to be able to process data locally and quickly. This is where edge computing comes in.

3. Defy data gravity and cut connectivity costs

When assessing edge computing as a business-viable proposition, the term ‘data gravity’ emerges. One estimate suggests that by 2024, Forbes Global 2000 enterprises will be creating 1.1 million gigabytes per second. This increasing data trend is echoed in South Africa. We currently have over 50 active data centre locations in South Africa, with the number growing rapidly, but there are time and monetary expenses associated with moving this data around – increasing network bandwidth to accommodate more devices comes at significantly higher costs.

Instead of constantly streaming data and consuming large amounts of bandwidth, edge computing can help because it processes data in place and only delivers the most critical information to a central location. Edge computing also reduces connectivity costs by moving smaller amounts of data between the edge and data centres.

4. Enhance data security and privacy protection

Cybersecurity and VPN company Surfshark reports that South Africa had the fifth highest cybercrime victim density in the world in 2022. Edge computing can potentially address users’ cybersecurity concerns, as it positively impacts data security by reducing data exposure.

By processing data locally at the edge, sensitive information is not extensively transmitted to centralised cloud servers, minimising the risk of interception or unauthorised access. This decentralisation preserves user privacy by keeping data within the local network, protecting against data breaches. This distributed approach to security ensures that even if one layer is compromised, other layers can continue to provide protection.

5. Empower innovation

Technologies such as AI and ML are gaining widespread acceptance in the region because businesses know they can enhance competitiveness. Edge computing enables the latest in AI, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT) by feeding algorithms the latest and most pertinent data sets.

Sensors connected to edge machinery can act on ML models by passing far less data back and forth than was used to create the model in the first instance. It speeds up the time to action from an AI or ML algorithm because there isn’t time lost to network latency, and the amount of data being moved is minimised to only the essential. Therefore, the rate of insight is vastly increased, which can improve innovation.

In addition, a large amount of innovation has already appeared in terms of automation, containerisation and distributed analytics. This means there’s never been a better time to run distributed applications and data. Organisations looking to manage edge deployments can now use containerisation as well as network and data abstraction layers to ensure that their applications are deployed in the same manner regardless of location. This further enables innovation by simplifying IT operations and freeing time from complex, cumbersome management or data movement tasks.

Giving South African businesses a competitive edge

Transporting data from the edge to a centralised data centre for processing brings with it cost increases and latency hikes. Not only that; it’s not necessary to transport all data back to a centralised location. In a world where unstructured data is growing exponentially, every single piece of data isn’t going to add value and be strategically important to an organisation. There needs to be a gatekeeper – both a physical device and a skilled person who can differentiate between strategic and non-strategic information that doesn’t need to be moved around. This differentiation will enable innovation and provide a competitive advantage.

Edge locations can be managed simply with automation; infrastructure-as-code can be deployed and maintained across many sites easily, whether edge or centrally located. A distributed analytics platform can then analyse data from anywhere without returning it to a central location first. This will speed up time to insight and add further differentiation.

By investing in edge computing capabilities, South African enterprises, regardless of size or industry, can unlock the potential of their data, stay secure, and drive innovation. The time to act is now, as the shift toward edge computing is underway, and those who embrace it early will gain a significant advantage.

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