What is Edge Computing? And why might it matter for your business?

What is edge computing? And why might it matter for your business?

Edge computing is a form of cloud computing where data is processed on devices at a network’s “edge,” rather than transmitting data to a more physically distant, centralized data center for processing. This puts compute and storage functions closer to where the data is generated and ultimately consumed by people.

Edge computing can take advantage of 5G’s capacity and low latency for operational efficiencies and can reduce the volume of traffic that would otherwise go across enterprise networks in traditional hub-and-spoke computing architectures.

Edge computing devices can include routers, firewalls, and other wide area network devices but more intelligent devices (like sensors, actuators, and IoT gateways with built-in processing, including artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics capabilities) are also emerging. These devices can be deployed within your IT infrastructure—for example, network infrastructure in a branch office, retail store, or manufacturing site.

Depending on the type of use case and latency required, a business like yours might deploy devices that can process data on premises using your own private network (closest to where data is generated). Or, for use cases with slightly less demanding latency requirements, you might use devices that transmit data to be processed at a communications service provider’s network edge (in the form of geographically distributed data centers that can process data faster than a centralized public cloud). Different edge solutions can be integrated to give you high-performance, responsive processing where you need it—ultimately delivering faster time to insight, increased productivity, more seamless operations and experiences, and faster time to market via increased automation.

It’s no surprise that edge computing is gaining popularity across industries, from smart factories and healthcare facilities to intelligent transportation systems and improved energy grids. A recent research study found that the global edge computing market is expected to reach $155.9 billion by 2030, a compound annual growth rate of 38.9%. Much of this is thanks to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing.

The use cases for edge computing—also called multi-access edge computing (MEC)—are a natural fit with 5G networks. Such use cases include vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and local content distribution, according to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

Our solutions experts at T-Mobile for Business can help organizations like yours weave the pieces together. Paired with offerings like T-Mobile 5G Advanced Network Solutions, we provide 5G and edge computing implementations, as well as integration and ongoing management as part of a fully-managed service.

Why edge security is a shared responsibility.

Edge computing extends 5G’s low-latency performance to more devices in more places. That’s a game changer because, while a 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) reduces latency between mobile devices and cell towers, it does not reduce latency on other networks. That’s why running edge computing—whether in an enterprise network, service provider network, or even homes and vehicles—together with 5G is so crucial.

“The idea is to provide compute and storage closer to devices to take advantage of low-latency RAN,” says Jean-Luc Bouthemy, Principal Engineer, Cybersecurity at T-Mobile.

Edge computing unlocks new capabilities with the potential to boost the value and impact for your business. This includes process automation, next-generation applications, accelerated analytics, and the reduced likelihood of disruptions caused by cloud outages—all of which can help you be more agile and efficient.

At the same time, edge computing also “creates a significant shift in security,” Bouthemy says. “Security needs to be a shared responsibility among the different parties providing the solution.” 

According to ETSI, the “heterogeneity” of the different systems that must be integrated for edge computing requires that everyone involved give appropriate attention to security, trust, and privacy. “Edge computing environments are by nature characterized by a complex multi-vendor, multi-supplier, multi-stakeholder ecosystem of equipment, including both hardware and software devices,” ETSI summarized in a white paper.

Considerations for protecting more devices.

The physical structure of enterprise and service-provider networks is changing to accommodate edge computing, as edge servers and gateways are deployed in this decentralized fashion. Meanwhile, 5G networks’ software-defined architecture provides greater flexibility and scalability. With 5G and edge working together, data can be secured without degrading latency, whether in motion or at rest.

One principle to keep in mind: As IoT devices interact with edge computing platforms via any type of network, there will be more devices to protect across a wider footprint. And MEC platforms are accessed commonly through REST APIs—REST, which stands for representational state transfer, is used for client-server and IoT communications—which need to be monitored and protected.

The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) advises that stakeholders should share responsibility in several areas of security:

  • Protecting infrastructure and other assets as part of physical security
  • Policies and controls such as data loss protection, data classification, cloud security, and container security
  • User and data security, including backup and restore, operational maintenance, and equipment disposal
  • Network-security and application-security layers, with strong authentication that uses certificates

Stepping up security.

While the combination of 5G and edge computing presents new security considerations, this dynamic duo also offers significant advantages. For instance, 5G allows organizations to closely monitor the performance and safety of edge activity, including activity related to operations and configuration. And, because edge computing happens closer to the data source, threat detection can potentially be performed faster at those edge nodes.

In addition, many vulnerability concerns with earlier cellular network technologies—2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE—have been mitigated in 5G. And encryption is widely used in 5G—for interfaces, subscriber identities, the network control plane, and the user plane.

Yet another security layer is possible with network slicing, a way of creating virtual networks with 5G that can be managed and secured independently. Network slices offer the potential for advanced specialized services that are efficient and cost-effective, and they can provide specific protections for different devices.

In pursuit of more efficient processes.

With these data-security safeguards in place, 5G and edge computing can improve your ability to innovate. One high-potential possibility is the ability to extend AI algorithms to more areas of the business.

In manufacturing, machine control and precision monitoring are well suited to using AI with on-premises edge computing. AI-based endpoints can include sensors, cameras, and other IoT devices. Since the processing speed for a fast-running production line filled with such devices must keep pace, a low-latency architecture of 5G and edge computing can be ideal.

In this way, 5G and edge computing have the potential to accelerate the development of smart factories. And there are similar possibilities for digital transformation in other industries, ranging from automotive and retail to utilities and healthcare.

Secure by design—and getting even better.

While security is never a given, 5G’s software-defined architecture and inherent security improvements over past generations of cellular offer an excellent starting point. 5G and edge computing are evolving to include additional security improvements, better connectivity across clouds and operator networks via MEC federation, and support for a wider range of IoT devices—all of which present new capabilities and efficiencies for business.

Whether you typically take on projects like these yourself or with a partner like our solutions experts at T-Mobile for Business, you can expect 5G’s security advances—from encryption to authentication to network slicing— to support your next-generation environments.

Ready to start building your 5G future?