We often talk about the edge and the digital edge in Interconnection articles, but today I thought it would be helpful to step back and explore what these terms mean in action. This would be a lot simpler if the edge wasn’t such a moving target. Every time business or social circumstances change, such as with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers telecommuting from home, new edge use cases appear.
Our global digital economy is in a period of massive convergence – one that is bringing together physical and virtual technology, digital and business ecosystems, and users inside and outside of data centers. Whether it is an autonomous car sending out telematics data to an insurance company or a patient talking to her doctor via a telemedicine app on a tablet, one thing is for certain ̶ the closer the underlying technology can be directly and securely interconnected to the endpoint (person, device or application), the better the performance and user experience.
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Why did the edge become a thing?
The edge is not so new. Edge computing has been around since the 1990s when distributed content delivery networks (CDNs) were serving up online content (gaming, videos, etc.) closer to users to reduce latency and improve performance. Since then, it has become abundantly clear that latency-sensitive applications require proximity to the things that use them. These applications include digital payments, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), and artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in all fields. And that’s not just proximity to users – latency-sensitive applications also need to be as close as possible to supporting systems, applications, and private and public clouds. Gartner estimates that “By 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud.”[i]
Mobile/wireless computing has enabled the IoT, smart phones, internet TVs, robots, connected vehicles, and augmented and virtual reality systems to become the norm. But it is the ability to connect to them over what carriers have dubbed “the last mile,” between the corporate network and users, that is paramount to their success. That means that today’s companies can’t just focus on just developing products, they also need to master how to connect those products between their users and the digital edge platforms that make them so valuable.
Everything is happening at the edge
Following are a few of the major edge use cases that are defining and redefining the edge:
Autonomous Cars – The Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of driving automation ranging from 0 (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous).[ii] Level 5 requires less than 5 milliseconds (ms) of latency in its communications to be effective. This means that “tromboning” connected vehicle data between different cities to correct a malfunction in real-time just won’t work. For example, it takes about 11-12ms for data to travel from Sacramento to Los Angeles, so a single transaction would take 24ms round trip. That is far too slow for an autonomous vehicle to respond to new data to avoid a collision. You need a high-capacity, single-digit round-trip millisecond 5G link between the car and the tracking/monitoring system for true (and safe) autonomy.
Virtual Classrooms: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of nearly 300 million students globally.[iii] Streaming and online learning programs have replaced in-class instruction. UCC providers such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are delivering virtual classrooms to children in their homes, as well as digital meeting venues for their parents, who are now part of a growing remote workforce. And virtual education is not just limited to reading, writing and arithmetic, online bible study groups and church services are also proliferating around the world on YouTube, Facebook and Zoom. Wherever people gathered to learn, they are now gathering online.
Life-saving IoT: There is no place further out on the edge than an oil well in the middle of nowhere. This is where IoT, AI, machine learning, edge computing and fast, low-latency interconnection are critical to saving lives. IoT sensors can track oil well environmental systems and process data and analytics in real-time, communicating critical information back to remote control stations to help prevent outages or life-threatening disasters.
Telemedicine Triage: The global healthcare crisis has accelerated medical diagnosis and treatment.Telemedicine (also known as telehealth) brings therapy, medical advice and certain health screenings into peoples’ homes by connecting them to medical providers online. This enables people who are potentially contagious to not spread a disease by going into a medical center or clinic, yet still receive advice and/or treatment by a doctor or a nurse. Speaking about the impact of the pandemic on her organization, nurse practitioner and executive director of Denver-based Bella Health + Wellness Dede Chism said, “We launched telemedicine overnight.” Within ten days of launching, over 50% of their patients were taken care of via telemedicine visits.[iv]
The edge unleashed
We expect the edge to continue to evolve as new use cases take shape such as mobile edge computing, bare metal, micro data centers, and distributed digital services such as system timing as a service. In future blogs, we’ll continue to demystify the evolving edge to help our readers take the necessary steps to succeed in a world that’s increasingly living and working at the edge.
[i] Gartner, “How to Overcome Four Major Challenges in Edge Computing,” By Analysts Thomas Bittman, Neil MacDonald, Ted Friedman, 04 November 2019, ID: G00450580.
[iv] Thedenverchannel, “Telemedicine innovation, use growing during pressure of COVID-19 spread,” March, 2020.