I’ve been coming across more and more buzz regarding the term “edge computing{1}”. Research firm IDC defines this concept as a “mesh network of micro data centers that process or store critical data locally and push all received data to a central data center or cloud storage repository, in a footprint of less than 100 square feet.” The premise is quite straightforward: to decrease the latency and time it takes to send data to the cloud by processing it at the ‘edge’ or point of origin. As often the case, IDC’s conceptualization is a bit over-complicated. I think of edge computing as doing what the cloud can’t: bringing compute, storage, and associated services closer to the end-user. The benefits for this are obvious: better performance through reduced latency and improved reliability through elimination of a hard requirement for continuous WAN availability.

This is a space Reliant has been operating in for many years now. Our solution focuses on application delivery in-store and in-restaurant, and frequently these are apps that are critical to operations and customer experiences such as payment, back-of-house servers, point of sale, content delivery, and signage.

But in the retail and hospitality context is “edge computing” just store systems by another name? Is there really anything different going on here?

Edge computing represents the counterpoint to cloud computing and shouldn’t be thought of in a vacuum. The provisioning of systems in an edge computing context should be done using the same web-scale, DevOps infrastructure that drives cloud computing. It’s this approach that makes the cloud so attractive even as it reminds us that agility, scalability, reliability, configuration consistency, security (and the systems that support them) are the engines for digital business in the 21st century.

This understanding is especially critical in the era of IoT, which Gartner expects to rise to 20.4 Billion devices by 2020. As Brandon Butler at NetworkWorld points out, “Edge computing allows data produced by internet of things (IoT) devices to be processed closer to where it is created instead of sending it across long routes to data centers or clouds.”

The world of retail and hospitality technology, where every system has an IP address and are increasingly small and smart, is the IoT landscape, even if you aren’t thinking of your stores that way. From our perspective, edge computing provides a useful contextual definition of how we see the Store of the Future (or if you are already a Reliant customer, the Store of Today) setup.

As tech writer Andy Patrizio well states, “One of the problems with technology is terms tend to come before the definition. Technologists (and the press, let’s be honest) tend to throw a word around before it is well-defined, and in that vacuum come a variety of guessed definitions, of varying accuracy.” Technical terms may either shift or get replaced, especially as the underlying assumptions behind the technology they represent gradually come to embrace new advancements within the industry.

Edge computing is no exception. Just consider the major drivers behind cloud computing over the past decade: reduced cost, better use of resources, more efficiency, and more seamless operations. These same strategies and assumptions will be multiplied many times over in the age of IoT, which is precisely why edge computing (and Edge IT) is slated to become the next big thing in the world of networking and operations.

I like to think that Reliant has emerged in recent years as a premier example of an “edge computing” company. Our solution is a central cloud managed, in-store platform that uses virtualization and a web-scale DevOps infrastructure to automate delivery and management of applications, networking, and security controls either in-store or in the cloud. By providing an integrated system that brings compute, storage, and associated services closer to the end-user Reliant is hewing closely to best practices on how to deploy and manage an edge computing infrastructure.

We have long discerned the importance of edge computing, even before someone gave it a fancy name. We know this because Reliant Platform is built on the many of the same assumptions and strategies that have driven the massive migration of enterprise data to the cloud over the past ten years. The parallels couldn’t be more obvious as we see the “edge” rising on this new era of technology automation. By managing retail data at the local level with improved security, increased reliability, and reduced cost, Reliant bridges the gap between brick and mortars and edge computing – one store at a time.

What does all this mean in an era when technology automation is rapidly changing the whole customer experience? Quite simply, it is this. The same motivation for greater efficiency, reliability, and agility that have driven the enterprise migration of applications and data to the cloud should also encompass edge computing. Retail and hospitality brands looking to seamlessly deliver systems to the store, and to transform their legacy systems into something more akin to microservices, must now put this concept right at the center of the retail experience.

Is edge computing on your organization’s technology roadmap for 2018 and if so, how will it enhance your customer’s journey?

 

[1] See http://www.businessinsider.com/edge-computing-and-fog-computing-explained-2018-2, https://www.computerworlduk.com/infrastructure/colo-telcos-providers-may-partner-meet-edge-computing-growth-3671496/, and https://www.cmswire.com/internet-of-things/edge-computing-what-it-is-and-how-its-a-game-changer/