Edge vs Cloud or Edge Plus Cloud: What is the Way Forward?

Edge computing brings data processing closer to the source of data, as well as the object of resulting actions or decisions. This contrasts with traditional architecture, where data is initially transferred to a central location for processing and storage, and any resulting actions are communicated back to the source via network connections. With billions of IoT and other devices generating data, enterprises are also experiencing an explosion in data sources and volumes. This is where edge computing plays a key role. By design, it can change the way billions of IoT and other devices store, process, analyse, and communicate data.

It is swiftly reshaping global industries, such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and energy. In the manufacturing sector, it plays a crucial role in equipment monitoring, enhancing quality control, and boosting overall productivity. Within the energy industry, it facilitates the automation of power grids, streamlines maintenance processes, and issues safety alerts. Similarly, farmers can leverage edge computing to optimise crop growth, regulate water usage, and determine optimal harvest timing. It even enables enterprises to optimise day-to-day operations by minimising data load and latency, ensuring faster response times. It also contributes to heightened employee productivity by efficiently delivering relevant data and enhances security by reducing data transmissions through numerous sensors.

Meanwhile, in healthcare and retail, it proves invaluable by collecting customer and patient data, managing inventory, tracking patient information, ensuring vaccine integrity, and facilitating at-home medical care, among other applications.

The cloud is at the heart of accelerating digital transformation and innovation. “With cloud, we have a common platform on which everyone can innovate and apply their unique needs and solutions. From young startups to global corporations, government agencies to non-profits, every organisation has embraced cloud computing technology for almost every important function. This is based on an underlying foundation of trust in the cloud as a platform,” says Himani Agrawal, Country Head – Azure, Microsoft India and South Asia.

Cloud computing for the internet business and the digital ecosystem has been rising fast with its data centres growing at exponential rate. It has been powering small and medium businesses by enabling tools and technologies they needed to compete with large organisations. “Containerisation or virtualisation in the cloud platform, combined with low-cost infrastructure, high-value development services, ease of scaling up and down, and distributed systems, will firmly establish the cloud as the new enterprise digital application platform,” says Anil Dobhal, Chief Technology Officer, Doceree.

The digital ecosystem is characterised by the ability to access any service at any time from anywhere. Cloud computing has been an essential enabler of the digital ecosystem, facilitating on-demand access to a diverse set of computing resources and services via the internet.

Some of the key benefits of cloud computing as mentioned by Meghan Nandgaonkar, JDU Head, Fujitsu India, are as follows:

Scalability: Cloud services can be readily scaled up or down to meet the demands of an enterprise. This adaptability enables firms to handle unpredictable workloads efficiently without making large upfront investments.

Accessibility: Cloud services can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, enabling remote work and collaboration. This accessibility enhances productivity and business continuity.

Cost-efficiency: Cloud computing reduces the requirement for capital investments in physical infrastructure, while also lowering operational costs associated with maintenance and updates. Pay-as-you-go pricing structures save costs because customers only pay for the resources they utilise.

Innovation and agility: Cloud computing allows businesses to test new technologies and services without making large upfront commitments. This encourages innovation and keeps businesses competitive. Innovators can focus on developing core elements of their idea, while using existing cloud services for non-core functions, thereby reducing the cycle time for MVPs and pilots.

Commenting on the on-going debate between edge and cloud computing, whether it is about choosing one over the other or finding a balanced approach that combines both, Ashish Shah, Founder and CEO, QualiSpace says, “Edge computing brings the workloads closer to the end users, while Cloud computing encompasses various workloads in a cloud service provider’s data centre. Cloud computing offers cost-effective, reliable, and scalable IT operations for enterprise applications. Conversely, Edge computing enables faster responses at the source, bypassing the need to centralise data processing. These technologies collectively empower organisations to deliver Internet-scale services, meeting the demands of the modern digital landscape. So definitely, edge plus cloud is the way forward.”

On the other hand, Agrawal believes that it is not about choosing one over the other, but finding a balanced approach that combines both. Dobhal states that user-facing applications can be on the cloud while data-intensive processing can be conducted on the edge. The rationale behind this approach is that it is more sensible for these programs to be in proximity to the data due to considerations of time sensitivity and reliability. “We need to understand that cloud and edge computing cannot replace one another, think about the remote locations where there is limited or no connectivity to centralised locations that are hosting the cloud data centres,” he adds.

“An optimum integration of edge and cloud computing is a must for any hybrid strategy to work for an enterprise, while still being efficient and versatile for changing business landscape,” says Nandgaonkar. “Businesses need to consider several key factors – functional needs of various applications, application workload distribution, data management strategies and required redundancy levels for business continuity. Efficient synchronisation and storage of data between edge devices and cloud is an important success factor, along with reliable, low-latency connectivity using both wired and wireless connections between the edge and the cloud,” he adds.

Integrating edge and cloud computing can be challenging for businesses, as they have to deal with various issues related to the technologies, platforms, systems, resources, and data involved in a hybrid environment. “Organisations need to ensure that different edge and cloud computing technologies and platforms can work together seamlessly, especially when dealing with heterogeneous and legacy systems,” shares Agrawal. She even mentioned that considering the trade-offs and costs of edge and cloud computing, as well as managing the complexity and diversity of their environments, should be areas for consideration. Also, challenges arise for enterprises in securing and protecting data and devices in both edge and cloud computing environments from cyberattacks.

The power of 5G, IoT, and real-time AI is unlocking new and innovative services for enterprises across the world to accelerate their transformation. 5G and IoT can enhance the performance and efficiency of edge computing by reducing latency, bandwidth consumption, and power consumption. They can also enable new use cases such as immersive XR, smart cities, and Industry 4.0.

Dobhal states, “Today, organisations are leveraging cloud services to access and adopt new technologies while also driving operational efficiencies. Small and mid-sized companies, which may have limited skill sets required from a cloud engineering perspective, look forward to making use of the proprietary services provided by cloud partners.”

The technological innovations supporting edge computing include the development of distributed computing resources located closer to the data source. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be transmitted over long distances. Such an approach proves highly beneficial for IoT applications like autonomous vehicles or smart city infrastructure, which generate substantial amounts of data.

“The future is now, customers can start applying the adaptive cloud approach to drive seamless transformation from cloud to edge today,” says Agrawal.