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Hello Edge, Goodbye Cloud?

Arthur Cole

The tech industry is grappling with some fundamental issues in its drive to implement the Internet of Things (IoT); namely, where should all this new data be stored and processed? For organizations that have only just begun to sort out these issues between the data center and the cloud, the rise of the IoT edge is likely to muddle strategic infrastructure planning all over again.

As is often the case, most enterprises will turn to the vendor community for guidance. But now that platform developers, service providers and cloud organizations are all vying for the expected rise in IT workloads, it is difficult to determine who has the most efficient and effective solution.

Dell, for instance, is going full tilt into IoT edge platforms, which CEO Michael Dell says is the only way to ensure that devices receive the real-time performance needed to fulfill many crucial tasks. An autonomous car, for example, cannot wait for data to traverse the internet back to a regional cloud provider or an enterprise data center in order to take evasive action. It needs instant, intelligent analytics that can only come from a highly sophisticated processing station on the edge. To that end, the company has established a new business unit that will focus on key edge technologies such as data ingestion, real-time analytics and security.

Is it safe to say, then, that the cloud is dead, as NXP Semiconductors’ Ruediger Stroh seemed to imply on Datacenter Knowledge recently? Of course not, and once you get past the provocative headline, it’s clear that Stroh does not think so either. What will happen, however, is that the cloud will function less as a processing solution and more as a storage and archival platform, sort of like what it was in the beginning. Even IDC recognizes that by 2021, 43 percent of IoT processing will take place at the edge. At best, says Stroh, the cloud will act as the teaching and training center for the IoT, providing pattern recognition and machine learning tools to allow devices to start thinking for themselves.


In this light, says TECHnalysis Research consultant Bob O’Donnel, edge computing will not kill the cloud, but it will weaken it. For one thing, the cloud was designed to act as an adjunct or a replacement to the traditional data center, handling the same workloads that the enterprise has always managed, albeit in a cloud-native fashion. But the workloads on the IoT are vastly different, featuring high levels of small-packet processing on highly parallel architectures. As well, the edge must be optimized to digest and coalesce data from multiple sources and hand it back to connected devices in an actionable form. This is a far cry from the typical single-stream, bulk data processing that takes place in the cloud and the data center.

But is this narrative of a declining cloud and data center due to an ascending edge accurate? Not really, if some of the IoT-facing developments in centralized infrastructure bear fruit. Google recently turned to NXP Semiconductors to develop a scale-out architecture designed to handle the Big Data loads that legions of IoT devices are expected to produce. The idea is not necessarily to support real-time processing for autonomous devices but to support the centralized management and massive data analytics needed to implement a global IoT footprint. In this way, organizations can institute functions like end-to-end security, policy enforcement, protocol management and the myriad other aspects of a coherent, integrated data environment.

In this light, it seems that projections of the cloud’s demise due to a rising IoT are in the same tradition of numerous other calls for technological obsolescence, from the mainframe to the PC to disk storage. New technology rarely kills off the old, but it does change its value proposition.

The fact remains that the IoT represents an expansion of data capabilities, not a contraction, and there is enough room in this digital ecosystem for all forms of infrastructure to make a valuable contribution to data productivity.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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