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March 9, 2017updated 28 Mar 2017 4:10pm

Gaining a competitive edge with intelligence at the edge

By Dan Rogers

Everything is getting ‘smart’ these days – from cars and cities, to refrigerators and ovens. The rise of the smart device goes hand-in-hand with connectivity, giving rise to the term ‘connect things’ and of course, the darling of the media,’ Internet of Things.’

The Internet of Things, so talked about it has been given the handy acronym of ‘IoT’ for speeds sake, seems to have moved out of the trend zone and embedded itself in everyday life, so much so that Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use across the world in 2017. That is a staggering 31% increase on 2016 numbers and nearly half way to the research firm’s 20.4 billion connected things forecast for 2020.

Although consumer things make-up the lion’s share of worldwide connected devices, Gartner has stated that businesses are on pace to employ 3.1 billion connected things in 2017. This adoption of IoT in the enterprise means so much more than a few connected devices in the office; it is in fact causing a significant shift away from the workplace of old and kick-starting a transformation.

Gone are static cubicles and rigid work models, replaced by hot-desking and a new collaborative digital work model. The smart office of the future boosts efficiency and productivity, while reducing costs. The transformed workplaces also offer data – huge oceans of data – generated by all the people, places and things in the workplace. This is a double-edged sword – the huge amounts of data gives businesses insights like never before, offering visibility across an organisation. Data can be used to spot inefficiencies, and in turn reduce costs while boosting productivity. However, as the amount of connect things in the workplace gathers pace, the amount of data harvested by devices only goes up. This means that businesses need substantial compute power to deal with so much data.

This is where the workplace of old proves to be the fly in the connected thing’s ointment. The old way of processing would see the backhauling of a data feed to a data centre for processing, then pushing the processed data back out to the edge platform. In today’s world, where speed is paramount, this old method of processing is simply not good enough.

This has led to the emergence of ‘intelligence at the edge’, which puts the processing of data as close to the collection point as possible.

“While it may be tempting to presume the Intelligent Edge is a collection of hardware gadgets with additional software capabilities built in, the reality is so much more,” explains Chris Kozup, VP of Marketing at Aruba, a HPE company.
“We define the Intelligent Edge as consisting of three layers. At the foundation is edge infrastructure containing familiar technologies, such as your LAN, WLAN and WAN, along with newer innovations, like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors and converged edge systems.
“In the middle layer are mobility and IoT platforms, the former for the local area and the latter for the wide area. Local area platforms are also called mobile-first and contain technologies to manage the devices within your enterprise. Wide area also goes by universal IoT and focus on connecting the millions, or billions, of devices spread across a city or other geographic region,” wrote the Aruba VP in a blog post.
“On top of the first two layers rides a robust partnership ecosystem. This layer is necessary for developing the apps and services required for delivering the experiences enterprises need to make their digital workplaces hum.”
Moving processing as close as possible to the place where data is generated – the device at the edge – solves too huge problems facing the enterprise in the IoT world. Firstly, it solves the bandwidth problem.

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Bandwidth on IoT platforms is a problem, with there never enough bandwidth to effectively backhaul the data to a centralised point. A quick fix would be to cut the data so that it fits, but this reduces the quality of the data.

Secondly, intelligence at the edge solves latency problems; the latency required by data processing far from the edge is too high for many applications. Speed and the ability to make quick decisions is vital, so to generate and act on data at the edge is far quicker than moving all the data to a data centre.

But how do companies make the leap to intelligence at the edge? Mr Kozup advises that any enterprise should first take stock of the current environment – after all it’s impossible to know where to go or what to change if you don’t know where you currently are with your infrastructure.

Companies should then ensure that all available data is being extracted, leveraging both modern wired and wireless technologies from the data centre to the edge.

The next step urges the use of AI and machine learning as innovative solutions to fully safeguard the enterprise. Ultimately, you want to protect data in motion and data at rest.

The Aruba VP then urges the unlocking of knowledge, with this next step all about the deployment of solutions that collect information about employees, customers and the wider world. This is key – technology can help turn behaviours into insights you can monetise.

The last step is all about profitability, with Mr Kozup saying: “Embrace smart innovations that aggregate and analyse your collected data, in combination with other 3rd party feeds, to uncover new ways to get the most from your employees, customers, processes and supply chain.”

As billions of connected things embedded themselves in work and play, all businesses of all sizes are rushing to leverage the data and insights which these devices harness. Everyone is trying to make money out of big data, deploying sensors and technology to make the workplace smart and productive – and therefore more profitable. The rush is on to remain competitive in this smart, connected world, and the winning companies will be the ones with speed on their side.

Speed is key in the connected world of the future, and that speed can be delivered at the edge. Pushing processing power to the edge will give businesses the speed and insights in which to remain competitive – indeed, intelligence at the edge will deliver a competitive edge in the IoT era.

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