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Edge vs. Cloud Computing: What’s the Difference?

Paul Hager
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An Explanation in Less Than 1,000 Words

Edge computing is a hot buzzword these days. Confused about how edge computing and cloud computing are different? Is one better than the other? Should your business be using both? Plenty of people have questions like these. So we thought we’d clear it up for you.

Cloud Computing in a Nutshell

Cloud computing is a general term for a distributed set of processing power that allows you to run applications and services. It’s a group of computing resources that isn’t as susceptible to outages because the data isn’t on just a single machine.

There are two types of clouds – public and private. You can have a private cloud built at your business (typically in the data center or server room). It’s a group of servers that combine to create your own little private pool of resources.

Then there’s the public cloud, which is where you rent access to Microsoft, Amazon, Google, or others’ pool of cloud resources for computing.

Edge Computing – What Is It Exactly?

Edge computing does data processing and analysis near the edge of a network, at the point where the data is being collected. That means far less data is being sent to the cloud. A local edge device processes the data and only sends summarized data points (instead of all the raw data) to the cloud.

Data traveling through your network is like a road trip. Any communication with an application or database is a round trip from a device to the data resource and then back to the device. Edge computing makes this round trip faster because the data doesn’t have to travel as far. It also reduces latency and the amount of network bandwidth necessary for sending data.

Edge computing came about because of the Internet of Things (IoT). A quick explanation of IoT: many devices in our businesses and our daily lives now have sensors on them that are producing data – this network of sensors is commonly known as IoT. Real-time data and responses are essential in IoT situations. If the data takes a long time to process, it could quickly become too old and therefore useless.

Examples of Edge Computing in Action

Let’s use an example from the manufacturing industry to further define edge computing. Say you’re a manufacturing company. You have intelligent manufacturing equipment, meaning IoT devices have been added to them to start gathering data about your machines.

If you took all that IoT data and sent it to the cloud, it would take over the network because you’re collecting SO MUCH data about your machines: current running temperature, current operating time, how many widgets it’s making, the humidity of the widgets, the job it’s running, etc. Sending all of that data to the cloud will use a big chunk of your Local Area Network bandwidth and Wide Area Network bandwidth.

With edge computing, instead of sending all of that information back to the onsite data center or to the cloud, edge devices do some of the processing at the point where the data is generated. It’s a much faster and better solution.

Another example of edge computing is in self-driving vehicles. You can’t wait for the data about that autonomous car to go all the way out to the internet, have a data center tell the car what to do, and send the data all the way back down to the car. It would take too long and the car would crash into something.

So instead, edge computing power is built into the car to process the data needed to make real-time decisions. Other information like GPS data, historical data, logs, etc. are sent to the cloud for processing.

Will Edge Computing Replace Onsite Data Centers and the Cloud?

With the rise of IoT and smart devices, edge computing is starting to come up in tech conversations more often. But it’s not going replace your data center.

It still makes sense for most businesses to have one primary data closet, data center, or data center facility. Companies still need to send their disaster recovery data backups to a secondary data center or the cloud. Edge computing is not going to replace that. You’re not going to suddenly have all your server data spread across every device.

It’s also likely not a replacement for public cloud. Edge computing is simply a different way of processing data so you can better use your networks and better deliver a given service within your business.

If you have questions, Elevity is here to help you translate these complex tech terms and help you decide whether they’re a fit for your business. We’ll also find you the best-in-class vendors and implementations to help you take advantage of these new technologies. Contact us for answers.

Additional Resources

From Cloud to Edge: The Next IT Transformation (ZDNet and TechRepublic)

Understanding Edge Computing (ZDNet)

Edge Computing: A Cheat Sheet (TechRepublic)

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