Why are we talking about the edge?

Edge computing and processing are becoming a driving force in shaping networks

by Josh Goodell, Vice President of Intelligent Edge, AT&T

Edge computing and processing aren’t new concepts, but in today’s technology landscape, they’re quickly becoming a driving force in shaping networks. So why are we talking about the edge?

Existing and upcoming next-generation technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), software-defined network, blockchain, artificial intelligence and 5G – all of which are essential to the future of the customer experience and back-end business operations – require massive amounts of near real-time computation. Edge-to-Edge intelligence is poised to help make this computation possible, and make seamless user experiences a reality.

Understanding the edge

Today’s applications – and those just on the horizon – are high-performance and power hungry. They generate significant amounts of data and require real-time computing power.

Consider how much computation will be required to put self-driving cars on the road. Certain systems, like braking, will be controlled by the car’s internal systems and require immediate responses.

With traditional networks, a device sends information to a data center that may be hundreds of miles away. Data takes time to travel across large physical distances. As a result, delays can occur. With edge computing, critical functions can be processed at the network’s edge in real-time. Data from secondary systems, such as updating the car’s maps or managing the onboard infotainment system, can be processed in the cloud.

Edge technologies make it feel like every device is a supercomputer. Digital processes become lightning fast. Critical data is processed the edge of the network, right on the device. Secondary systems and less urgent data are sent to the cloud and processed there. With SDN, organizations have more flexibility to define rules on where and how data is processed to optimize application performance and the user experience.

When paired with 5G, which promises faster speeds and lower latency, edge computing offers a future with near real-time, back-and-forth connections.

MORE: Transforming your business at the network edge

Shifting toward an infrastructure and services design to support edge computing requires several considerations:  


Embracing software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) can provide a launch point for a fully virtualized network infrastructure and virtualization. Investing in SD-WAN provides the groundwork for edge computing. It’s a logical starting point, as it can be deployed alongside existing technologies until they’re retired. Your team has access to management, control and scalability, enabling gradual progress toward full virtualization.

As a transition point, starting with SD-WAN enables your team and network to get up to speed at a pace that makes sense for your business. SD-WAN, for example, can help retailers more efficiently manage the flow of data between multiple devices in-store, from apps and geofencing on shoppers’ devices to sophisticated developments like augmented reality mirrors.

MORE: Thinking about the edge? Start with your infrastructure


Moving data processing closer to the network edge has security implications. With software-defined networking, it’s possible to develop a multi-layered approach to security that takes the communication layer, hardware layer and cloud security into consideration simultaneously.

With the right plan, you can protect against threats such as spoofing and tampering, as well as access concerns. For example, healthcare organizations can leverage tools like virtual reality for diagnostics while ensuring patient information remains secure.

MORE: Security and the edge: Combat threats, shift thinking

Hybrid edge-cloud solutions

Edge computing isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Centralized cloud services aren’t going anywhere, but there is a need for complementary edge computing capabilities to enable next-generation devices.

It’s possible to process your most important data at the edge, and then shift remaining data to centralized facilities. A hybrid solution can allow an industry such as financial services to thrive: edge technologies deliver real-time, fast experiences to customers and provide the flexibility to meet industry requirements with centralized data storage.

MORE: Edge vs. cloud? For many, the answer may be both

With network virtualization from SD-WAN and the high-speed, high-performance computing potential of edge technologies, businesses are experiencing a new wave of innovation in information processing and the consumer experience.

Manufacturers will embrace “Industry 4.0” with seamless integration of robotics tools. Retailers will deliver a wider array of digital experiences, including virtual and augmented reality tools, in the physical and digital experiences they provide. Healthcare providers can share and access information that saves lives and delivers treatment at speeds never seen before.

Edge technologies are poised to change the way businesses impact the world – and it all starts with choosing the right network partner.