Life on the Edge: An Introduction

‘’Edge is a buzzword. Like “IoT” and “cloud” before it, edge means everything and nothing.’’ – The Verge

The word edge for manufacturing context literally translates to computing done at or near the source of the data, instead of dependency on the cloud or central servers at one of the many data centres across the globe. To put simply, the cloud is coming to us rather than disappearing.

Let us try to understand the cloud and edge simply. 

To laymanise the word ‘Cloud’ think of the simple file sharing service Google Drive. Trying to access your files from a browser has a lag or in machine terms latency to it. When you are trying to access a particular file, the information about the file is first sent to servers, located maybe half-way across the globe, then the servers process the information and point access to the particular file located in a directory. If the connection cannot be established, the “No Internet Connection” Error shows up.

What if you had a local backup of your google drive on your computer? That would be working on the edge. When you access your files, the file is retrieved from your computer and edits are made to it using your local word processor. Easier understood if you have to deal with poor internet connections regularly or are used to working off the grid in remote areas. On establishing an internet connection, the files are processed and updated in the server. Your computer uses a local word processing system to allow you to make edits to the files which are then synced with the server.

The edge thus reduces or eliminates the delay in accessing central servers, but it may not be a big difference unless your internet connection fails and you realise the importance of the local backup. Similarly, Alexa from Amazon does the same. It takes the voice inputs, compresses them to send to the cloud, where its processed and the necessary actions are sent back as instructions to your device. If Alexa has an artificial intelligence chip to process your voice locally, the lag between your instructions and Alexa’s actions will be reduced.

Why do we need the edge? Moving to the edge addresses the major concerns of latency, bandwidth and security! More about it in the next article