Person sitting on the edge of a cliff - edge computing concept
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Edge computing is big business and likely to get better. In fact, just this week, Microsoft and AT&T announced that even though they are in the early days of their strategic alliance announced in July, they are ready to unveil new technologies that will help enterprises. One area of focus that both have been working on is aimed at enabling new 5G, cloud and edge computing solutions to drive enterprise capabilities for companies around the world. Specifically, this means previews for Network Edge Compute (NEC). This technology integrates Microsoft Azure services into Dallas-based AT&T network edge, software-defined network, and 5G deployments.

The companies are opening select preview availability for Network Edge Compute (NEC) technology, which weaves Microsoft Azure cloud services into AT&T network edge locations closer to customers. This means AT&T’s software-defined and virtualized 5G core — what the company calls the Network Cloud — is now capable of delivering Azure services. NEC will initially be available for a limited set of select customers in Dallas. Next year, Los Angeles and Atlanta are targeted for select customer availability.

In announcing the previews, AT&T explained that the first smartphones on 3G networks introduced the idea of mobile apps over a decade ago. A few years later, 4G LTE made it feasible to connect those devices faster to cloud applications to stream videos, hail rides, and broadcast content to the world.

With 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating with Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses. We’ve said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.

One of the advantages of edge computing compared to other emergent technologies like quantum computing, the concept of edge computing is simple to grasp despite its technological complexity.

To be clear, edge computing is a distributed computing paradigm which brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed, to improve response times and save bandwidth. The origins of edge computing lie in content delivery networks that were created in the late 1990s to serve web and video content from edge servers that were deployed close to users. Modern edge computing significantly extends this approach through virtualization technology that make it easier to deploy and run a wider range of applications on the edge servers.

In effect, edge computing some of the processing closer to its point of origin — as close as possible to where the data processing occurs. And so, rather than traveling to the cloud, the job is done “on the edge.” With all this processing power, then, work should be easier. So, is it? We asked several edge computing users. The offered four reasons why it works.

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1. Easier Collaboration.

Karen Arnoco is a Philippines-based freelance digital marketing and CX consultant. She says that edge computing will enable employees to collaborate in the places and ways that work best for them, leading to a more satisfied, productive workforce. By easing the data processing burden, edge computing also allows business to harness powerful new economic drivers, like crowdsourcing, without having to compromise on communication and organizational efficiency. In industries that require a quick response to local conditions — such as manufacturing and customer service — workers will be able to tap into their organization’s global network of resources to gain actionable insights and make decisions in real time.

2. Better Data Access

Edge computing will make the digital workplace easier to manage in some ways and more difficult in others, Carlos Soto, senior director of product management at Fort Mill, SC-based CompuCom, said. With the adoption of so many connected — non-smartphone/tablet/computer — devices, there's a wealth of data that can be intelligently processed locally to gain efficiencies and insights into potential productivity improvements that range from workflows to physical building management.

However, all those new devices and mini data centers running workloads present new IT support challenges — especially if they're spread wide geographically. That's creating demand for ever-better IT support automation solutions to keep service calls that need a physical technician to a minimum.

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3. Safer Cloud Computing

Edge computing will have huge benefits for the IoT ecosystem because it blends the value of the cloud — intelligent algorithms, analytics, mobile device connectivity — with the robustness of a regular device. There are many services than will benefit from being a connected IoT device, but the potential impacts of putting all that functionality in the cloud is significant. With pure cloud services, internet outages can cripple important functionality, privacy concerns become more difficult to address and your costs for the data center processing will be higher.

4. Digitized Workflows

As more devices connect to the Internet of Things, the data we’re getting can digitize workflows and automate decision-making — yet this is only if we can process and act on it in a timely manner.  Santa Clara, Calif.-based edge startup Zedea's CEO Said Ouissal says the internet was built for downloading content, rather than uploading data — edge computing solves the latency and reliability challenges faced with the latter. Bringing data processing capabilities to edge devices enables connected operations and real-time decision making in remote areas (such as wind farms) no matter the connectivity options.

5. Reduced Latency

Kelly Herrell is CEO at San Mateo, Calif.-based Hazelcast. She says that Edge computing is all about time, more specifically the reduction of application latency. Eliminating network distances and using ultra-fast data processing enables the digital workplace to become more effective and efficient as latency decreases. A recent research initiative we commissioned in collaboration with Intel found that more than half (65%) of companies measure latency in milliseconds or microseconds. As AI and machine learning truly enter the workplace, processing the data at the source of its creation and immediately acting on it to improve business operations or the customer experience will elevate almost any company into a leadership position.

At its recent IT Symposium/Xpo in Orlando, Fla., Gartner outlined what it believed will be the emerging enterprise technologies of next year, amongst which was edge computing. Much of the current focus on edge computing comes from the need for IoT systems to deliver disconnected or distributed capabilities into the embedded IoT world for specific industries such as manufacturing or retail.

However, edge computing will become a dominant factor across virtually all industries and use cases as the edge is empowered with increasingly more sophisticated and specialized computer resources and more data storage. Complex edge devices, including robots, drones, autonomous vehicles and operational systems will accelerate this shift.”