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Edge Computing Definition & Meaning

Edge computing is computing on localized servers and devices in order to more quickly process data in applications. Instead of relying entirely on cloud computing providers or data centers to process all of the data, perhaps hundreds of miles away, edge computing first processes data initially on a local server, whether that's in a personal device or a small data center in the user's geographical region. Edge computing helps optimize bandwidth. Multiple devices sending data to distant facilities can drag down network speed and functionality, so processing that data on an edge device can be much faster.

Cloud computing and large data centers are necessary for storing and using data, particularly as demand for faster processing and greater storage capacity rises. But the long distances from data centers to a personal computer or phone can cause the network to back up, which  prevents Internet of Things technology from working most effectively. IoT devices and systems should update instantly to have their full effect, and edge computing makes that more likely by processing data on a nearby device or server for more rapid results. Such devices are known as edge devices.

Edge technology will become more important as pervasive and ambient computing integrate further into devices, homes, businesses, and vehicles. Smart cars in particular would require almost instantaneous response to incoming data; that data can't wait to be processed by a distant cloud provider or data center. Smart infrastructure, too, would require real-time data analysis were it to be installed in roadways.

Edge computing and 5G networks are two similar and related technologies: 5G networks for devices allow faster Internet and computing. Low latency is a priority for 5G and edge computing. 5G networks have not been implemented everywhere, partly because many areas don't have network capabilities to fully support the technology. But edge computing may be able to accelerate the development of 5G and bridge the gap between full 5G implementation and applications that require immediate data processing.

Edge computing challenges

Edge computing could allow rural areas to have access to fast networks and IoT technology. However, one of the challenges in successfully implementing edge computing in some geographical locations is the lack of adequate networks to support that computing. Small edge data centers, which have been proposed for implementing edge computing, would be difficult to manage and secure, especially in rural areas with fewer people and security resources.

Edge security in general is also difficult to maintain. It's scattered across devices and servers, many of which do not have the same levels of security as large data centers or cloud providers. Data moving across the edge is very hard to track and secure. Authentication processes and data encryption for devices and endpoints are important.

Edge computing providers

Some companies offer software for edge computing, which can be installed on personal or corporate devices. Some edge computing providers include:

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