February 27, 2021

‘Edge Computing’, or how to speed up the Internet | Innovation

Internet today reaches unthinkable speeds a few years ago. Thanks to symmetric fiber and 5G networks we can already enjoy connections over 500 Mb / sec. Is it really necessary to continue innovating to accelerate the Internet? The answer is yes, no doubt. Let's see why.

Despite the great progress of cloud computing, today it is still essential that the user has very sophisticated devices so that the experience with the applications on the Internet is good. Our phones are very powerful, at work we use high-performance laptops, and at home we have video consoles to play and set top boxes to watch TV. Moreover, all the new connected devices of the Internet of Things carry complex minicomputers.

If the Internet were really fast, all this hardware could be moved to the cloud to take advantage of the economies of scale of the cloud and save the user the costs of the device. All we would need in the hands of the user would be interfaces with the machines: screens, speakers, mice, remote controls and, for IoT, sensors and actuators. In addition, we could solve the limitations of the batteries, and the problems of technological obsolescence would be solved to a large extent.

So yes, the Internet needs to go faster still. The funny thing is that to achieve these benefits the answer will not be in improving the fiber network or launching a new generation of mobile networks. The technology that will enable this new world is the edge computing (edge ​​computing, peripheral computing or fog computing).

This constitutes an evolution of cloud which consists of locating data centers in the closest place to the user that exists within the network: telephone exchanges. The power stations are the buildings in each neighborhood and to which the physical fiber optic cable that comes from each of our houses, or from each mobile phone antenna, arrives. Being so close to the user, the response speed is instantaneous, because, on the one hand, the laws of physics play in our favor and on the other, the intermediate network elements that introduce unnecessary delays are greatly reduced. Computing in the edge (English word for edge or edge) is as fast as in the devices and as economical as in the cloud.

A clear application is video games. In a game, the only computation that really needs to be done near the user is that of the command the player uses. All the rest, including graphic processing, can be done on large servers in the edge which can then send the images as if it were a video. In this way, the user can see them on any screen, not only on the TV to which the console is connected. In addition, you can not worry about the maintenance of the console, including the tedious updates of the games, and avoid having to renew your equipment every time a new console model goes on the market.

Something similar happens with data storage. Although it is easy to store them in the cloud today to save us the cost of local storage, many times we have to keep local copies in order to work with them without delay.

For example, if we are editing a family video, or handling the backup of mobile photos, storage in cloud It just doesn't go fast enough. With edge computing We can do these activities much faster and without the need for local storage. And recovering the backup of an entire hard drive will also be almost instantaneous.

The edge computing It also brings advantages to Internet of Things devices. For their popularization they need to be very cheap and have very durable batteries. One way to achieve both is to move computing tasks to edge so that devices have to do fewer tasks and spend less battery. This model also simplifies the maintenance of the device software, which would be made as easy as other routine tasks of the data centers.

In the field of virtual reality and augmented the edge It will also play an important role. These technologies have not yet become widespread despite how impressive it is to dive into a virtual world with glasses. For the experience to be totally immersive, the glasses must be connected by cable to a powerful computer, or be mounted on top including the weight of the batteries. With edge computing These functions can be delegated to data centers to improve the comfort of the glasses and thus achieve their popularization.

Even the most demanding applications could be efficiently implemented from the edge. The haptic Internet promises the experience most similar to the remote presence, including the ability to touch objects and manipulate them at a distance. This would give us the ability to experience and interpret remote realities using a combination of touch, sight and hearing, and would enable services as beneficial as distance surgery.

With the edge computing the true promise of cloud computing is enabled, with centralized, efficient and ubiquitous services, but also with simple and cheap devices to access them. It is the next Internet frontier.

David del Val He is Director of Internal Innovation at Telefónica

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