Techsplained @FE: What is edge computing? How it works and why we need it

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Published: April 20, 2020 3:30:16 AM

Now, any developer could create an app and run it on Amazon, Microsoft or Google’s servers and make millions or billions in the process.

Now, any developer could create an app and run it on Amazon, Microsoft or Google’s servers and make millions or billions in the process.

In the late 2000s, high-speed data access and seamless connectivity allowed companies to access servers from a remote location. It allowed organisations to scale capacity by the click of a button and a pay-as-you-go model developed. Clouds provided a much-needed boost to new age start-ups. Now, any developer could create an app and run it on Amazon, Microsoft or Google’s servers and make millions or billions in the process. Clouds reduced the cost of running a business. But as clouds become pervasive and more economies enter the realm of 5G, data footprints are growing beyond what a cloud can control. This has led to another age of computing. Instead of going bigger, companies are trying to go smaller.

What is edge computing?

Edge computing means processing data at the edge of the network, usually where it is generated. Instead of a cloud, data is processed by the device or by a local computer or server.

Why do we need edge?

Right now, we are handling data which is easier for a cloud network to handle. But as we connect more devices to the cloud, fridge, AC, toaster, lights, security systems, basically everything. It would be difficult for the cloud to handle so much of data, and the server would give you latency issues. For instance, in case of an echo, each time you ask a question, Alexa accesses its mainframe and provides an answer. This leads to latency. Similarly, in case of a self-driving car, all data is uploaded to a cloud, and then it sends back the decision, which leads to latency. Once, we start working on edge, a lot of these computations would happen onboard eliminating the need for sending everything to the cloud.

Does that mean we would not need cloud at all?

Not really, while data processing will take place on your device, some data would need to go back to the cloud. For instance, Alexa will still need answers from its mainframe, but it will also get personalised in catering to your needs. A refrigerator will still need to connect to the supermarket to tell them you have run out of eggs or milk. And, a car will still need to interact with lighting systems.

So, despite computing power, my data will still not be private?

There is no clear answer to how edge will work. While it is true that some information will be private, but that does not mean companies will stop collecting information all together. And, with so many connected devices, companies will collect more information than less. Alexa would not need to access the cloud to fulfil certain wishes, and a car would not be entirely reliant on the cloud network. But this will also come with security concerns. Companies would not ask you before sharing information or updating devices.

Techsplained @FE features weekly on Mondays. If you wish to send in queries that you want explained, mail us at ishaan.gera@expressindia.com

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