Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John English, Senior Marketing Manager, Service Providers at Netscout, describes some of the benefits offered by edge computing.
Edge computing is set to play an important part in fulfilling the expectations for 5G and unlocking its promised benefits. The connective tissue of IoT applications and services such as smart vehicles, public safety, remote medicine, robotics, and the networks of sensors deployed across smart cities, will all significantly gain from utilising 5G technology to achieve truly ubiquitous, reliable, scalable and cost-effective device-to-device connectivity.
Moving cloud, compute and processing power to the edge of the network makes it possible to support the ultra-low latency requirements of 5G and IoT applications such as connected cars, which require real time information at all times, while significantly improving the efficiency of devices.
As 5G and the IoT become more pervasive, there will be an increasingly urgent requirement to support the new data loads and unpredictable traffic patterns being introduced, along with the growing demand for reduced latency and increased compute efficiency. It’s little surprise, therefore, that service providers are now beginning to move network infrastructure to the edge.
With IoT solutions underpinning a growing number of aspects in our lives and businesses, it’s crucial that operators have assurance that their connectivity remains ubiquitous, consistent and reliable. But as with any burgeoning technology, there will always be a new set of challenges to face, and dealing with these will require complete visibility across the entire IoT lifecycle.
Intelligence and insight
The benefits offered by edge computing have seen it gain a lot of traction recently, with both established operators and new entrants to the market launching a range of new cloud and server technologies designed to effectively move data center functionality to the edge of the network. As organizations virtualize network components and functions for greater agility, speed and cost-savings, so they will leverage this new NFV architecture to deploy C-RAN (cloud-based RAN) solutions to better support the increase in their customer’s data traffic.
Managed correctly, the data generated by virtual solutions such as these will provide operators with much needed intelligence that will enable them to gain actionable meaningful insights and inform their network policy and traffic management systems. Over time, this flow of information, and the intelligence derived from it, will lead to networks becoming automated and self-optimizing. This will then allow operators to allocate capacity to areas where it’s needed most: whether to manage peaks in network demand or, in the case of IoT traffic, to manage the demands of sophisticated smart city deployments, autonomous cars, or ‘smart’ automated factories.
Use cases such as these are largely unknown territory, however, and the level of data traffic they will generate is unprecedented. Visibility is therefore crucial if operators are to effectively manage their networks. This is particularly the case with the IoT, where operators will be required to report on the status of any mission-critical systems. With IoT technologies underpinning a growing number of critical applications, such as disaster monitoring and military situational awareness, the need for assurance around security and service delivery is paramount.
Though it may be frustrating that a problem with the network may result in a user being unable to access a movie from a Netflix server on their mobile device, the stakes are considerably higher when a similar network problem affects the performance of a remote heart monitor in a hospital. So, while it makes sense for an operator to reconfigure a network to account for the increasing demands of 5G and IoT services, it must be possible to derive some meaningful insight from the data being produced. If not, it will offer no visibility into what’s happening on that network, and this could lead to very serious consequences.
In simple terms, a frustrated Netflix subscriber unable to watch the latest episode of Stranger Things can contact the customer service center. Automated machines on a production line, however, will not be calling into customer service to let anyone know if they’re experiencing issues with connectivity, which could have a knock-on effect throughout a business’s entire supply chain.
The oil that fuels the networks’ engines
As computing moves closer to the edge, smart data will quickly become the oil that fuels the networks’ engines.
Real-time, scalable meta data imbued with user experience derived from network traffic, smart data offers unlimited scale, across all aspects of the network, both physical and virtual. Once an operator is able to access and analyze this data in real-time, they will be able to gain valuable new insights into how the connected IoT devices and machines on their network behave, how they interact with the network, and the type of traffic patterns they produce. Ultimately, with access to smart data, operators will be in a better position to make more informed decisions about how to optimize their networks, where to allocate capacity, and how to boost performance.
Furthermore, the visibility enabled by smart data can also enable operators to identify anomalies within the network; significant changes that could indicate issues such as network congestion, which could potentially affect hundreds or thousands of connected devices. Actionable intelligence of this type is worth its weight in gold to an operator and its enterprise customers, who rely on the network to provide a communication backbone to support their IoT deployments.
Ensuring that everything is connected
Edge computing may currently be a nascent space, but the benefits of capacity, low-latency and scalability it offers represent great potential for the success of next-generation technologies. As operators prepare for a 5G rollout over the next five years, edge computing will become a critical element of mobile network infrastructure. And with the number of connected devices predicted to reach more than 30 billion by 2020, it will soon be adopted by ISPs, cable companies and a range of other service providers too.
As the industry continues to move network infrastructure to the edge, harnessing NFV and cloud technology to deliver new, faster, more efficient services, the need for visibility across these new-look, complex networks becomes abundantly clear if operators are to make the most of their new investment.
Only by employing a smart data solution will operators have the ability they need to monitor the sheer breadth and depth of the IoT ecosystem, and ensure that everything is assured, and every device connected.
Meet NETSCOUT and learn more about their solutions at 5G World 2018, taking place in London, 12 -14 June.