Could Edge Computing Eliminate Latency?

4th June, 2020

Since 2018, edge computing has subtly begun changing the way we store and retrieve data. Exciting technologies like IoT and high-performance computing are now part of our daily existence. This creates an increased demand for accelerated support as a foundation for real-time applications. 

What began as a way to address bandwidth consumption is now a data-driven process that is quickly changing the hosting topology. Many are asking what can we expect in the future? Let’s take a look…

What is Edge Computing?

A highly technical explanation of edge computing can be found at Garder. They state that it is “part of a distributed computing topology in which information processing is located close to the edge – where things and people produce or consume that information.”

However, put simply by Network World, “Edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to the devices where it’s being gathered, rather than relying on a central location that can be thousands of miles away.”  

Edge computing exists so that real-time data doesn’t experience the same latency problems that typically affect data that is traveling long distances. By doing so, there is also an enormous benefit by saving bandwidth costs incurred by delivering enormous amounts of data to the cloud.  

Edge Computing v. Latency

Latency is one of the internet’s biggest scourges. In the age of Netscape Navigator and dial-up modems, people patiently accepted delays between clicking a hyperlink and seeing a response in their browser window. Not anymore. Our growing reliance on internet connectivity has reduced our tolerance for delays. And as a result, there is a growing international focus on attempts to eliminate latency.

Also known as lag, latency affects some aspects of computing more than others. A one-second delay in loading a webpage is insignificant. Yet a one-second delay in updating an online game could prevent you from participating. It’s been calculated that a delay of just 50 milliseconds – one-twentieth of a second – is enough to disrupt online games like multiplayer RPGs. Latency also has a profound effect on streaming media, stock market services, video conferencing, and any online services. All of which rely on rapid data throughput.

Pushed to the edge

Until now, service providers (including gaming, streaming, and HPC) have struggled to ensure their products and offerings are provided to customers with minimal latency. Freeing up additional bandwidth helps to reduce latency caused by network congestion, but it’s not a panacea. Hosting data close to target audiences also help – which is why THG Hosting has hosting centers located around the world. However, this alone won’t overcome environmental factors like end-user connection speeds. Client device limitations are a constant source of consumer frustration. Traffic load spikes have no respect for limitations in the world’s broadband infrastructure.

Some experts have suggested edge computing might represent a way to effectively eliminate latency. For the uninitiated, edge computing can be thought of as a reversal of the cloud. Cloud services rely on server networks to pipe information to user terminals, from social media content to software packages. And each byte of distributed data is subject to the various challenges listed in the last paragraph. Edge computing is more like a return to the days of C drives, with end-user devices once again resuming responsibility for data processing.

Something new, something newer

This poses a question: why has so much emphasis been placed on the cloud if edge computing represents a solution? 

However, it’s important to acknowledge the cloud itself isn’t being abolished in edge computing. It may still be a crucial component of whatever service is being provided. HOwever, the focus is on minimizing data transfers, rather than sending everything to a remote server to be processed and interpreted. 

This is seen as a crucial evolutionary step for services like virtual assistants and autonomous IoT functions. These technologies include sending a local request for assistance is far quicker than distributing a request via dozens of internet nodes to reach someone in the same building.

Excitement about edge computing’s potential to effectively eliminate latency has seen it being embraced by telecommunication companies and service providers. They are investing billions of dollars in IoT, AI, and machine learning technologies. By doing so they are minimizing data access times and moving towards a seamless service even when internet connectivity is limited or sluggish.

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