Eventually the cloud won’t be able to cope with the billions of devices seeking data storage, and more localised ‘edge’ tech will be adopted.
FUTURE OF CLOUD- Time travel to the UK in 2025: Harry is a teenager with a smartphone and Pauline is a senior citizen with Alzheimer’s who relies on smart glasses for independent living. Harry is frustrated his favourite online game is slow, and Pauline is anxious because her healthcare app is unresponsive.
Forbes predicts that by 2025 more than 80 billion devices, from wearables and smartphones, to factory and smart-city sensors, will be connected to the internet. Something like 180 trillion gigabytes of data will be generated that year.
Currently almost all data we generate is sent to and processed in distant clouds. The cloud is a facility that provides virtually unlimited computer power and storage space over the internet. This mechanism is already becoming impractical, but by the time billions more devices are connected, delays due to congested networks will be significant. Harry and Pauline’s frustrations will be the norm as apps communicate with distant clouds over a busy internet, becoming slower and less responsive.
After all, seconds matter. Harry will have a poor gaming experience if there is a 50 millisecond delay on his smartphone. Even a 10 millisecond lag between the movement of Pauline’s head and the appearance of processed information on the smart glasses will cause motion sickness.
To imagine another futuristic scenario, a delay of one-tenth of a second could prove disastrous for an autonomous car driving at 70 miles per hour. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that limitations in cloud provisions could lead to life-or-death scenarios. For cloud users to operate in real time, experiencing delays of no more than one millisecond – assuming networks worldwide can transmit data at the speed of light – data will need to be processed less than 93 miles from the user.
Edge computing is a disruptive new technology, still in its infancy, which offers a solution. Delays will be reduced by processing data geographically closer to the devices where it is needed, that is, at the edge of the network, instead of in a distant cloud. For example, smartphone data could be processed on a home router, and navigation guidance information on smart glasses could be obtained from a mobile base station instead of the cloud.
Will this really happen?
The value of edge computing is to make applications highly responsive by minimising delays. This compelling proposition has attracted significant investment from major companies, including Cisco, Dell and Arm, all of whom have a major global footprint. The market is headed towards embracing the edge, and researchers across universities are closely examining and developing this technology.