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Be on the Edge to win the battle for eyeballs

By Shirish Nadkarni

Imagine this scenario – a diehard badminton fan is watching on TV a lively duel at the forthcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics between two of the most exciting shuttlers in the world, reigning world champion Kento Momota, playing in front of his home crowds, and Malaysia’s livewire, Lee Zii Jia.

During the mid-game interval, the fan sees the Malaysian ace talking to his masked coach, a former Malaysian national player, and wants to know the identity of the coach and his playing credentials, as well as details of the apparel and the brand of the shoes being used by Lee. 

Edge computing can deliver such information almost instantaneously.

For years, content providers have delivered video at scale thanks to edge implementations from CDNs (content delivery networks). Now the edge is providing new advantages for streaming video and other content delivery services. There’s a growing ecosystem of services embracing the network edge, and delivering significant benefits spanning reduced latency, expanded scale and global reach.

Gartner defines edge computing as “a 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.”

Today, edge computing is transforming the way data is being handled, processed, and delivered from millions of devices around the world. The explosive growth of internet-connected devices – the Internet of Things (IoT) – along with new applications that require real-time computing power, continues to drive edge-computing systems.

At its basic level, edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to the devices where it is being gathered, rather than relying on a central location that can be thousands of miles away. This is done so that data, especially real-time data, does not suffer latency issues that can affect an application’s performance, thus viewer experience.

In addition, companies can save money by having the processing done ‘locally’, reducing the amount of data that needs to be processed in a centralised or cloud-based location.

Advances in edge computing have accelerated due to the exponential growth of IoT devices, which connect to the internet for either receiving information from the cloud or delivering data back to the cloud. And many IoT devices generate enormous amounts of data during the course of their operations.

Think about devices that monitor manufacturing equipment on a factory floor, or an internet-connected video camera that sends live footage from a remote office. While a single device producing data can transmit it across a network quite easily, problems arise when the number of devices transmitting data at the same time grows. Instead of one video camera transmitting live footage, multiply that by hundreds or thousands of devices. Not only will quality suffer due to latency, but the costs in bandwidth can be tremendous.

Edge-computing hardware and services help solve this problem by being a local source of processing and storage for many of these systems. An edge gateway, for example, can process data from an edge device, and then send only the relevant data back through the cloud, reducing bandwidth needs. Or it can send data back to the edge device in the case of real-time application needs.

“Edge computing has evolved significantly from the days of isolated IT at ROBO [Remote Office Branch Office] locations,” says Kuba Stolarski, a research director at International Datacasting (IDC). “With enhanced interconnectivity enabling improved edge access to more core applications, and with new IoT and industry-specific business use cases, edge infrastructure is poised to be one of the main growth engines in the server and storage market for the next decade and beyond.”

Faster networking technologies, such as 5G wireless, are allowing for edge computing systems to accelerate the creation or support of real-time applications, such as video processing and analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics, to name a few.

“We are experiencing acceleration in the move to cloud-based systems by broadcasters and media companies,” says Fintan McKiernan, chief executive officer – South East Asia, for Ideal Systems, a company at the cutting edge of technology, that will mark its 10 years of existence this September.

“This acceleration is being catalysed by Covid-19 and the need for remote operations, work from home, hybrid events and remote production that has permeated every broadcaster, channel operator and news organisation.

The traditional broadcast equipment manufacturers are scrambling to re-invent themselves in the cloud as they compete with new cloud native start-ups entering the market.

“Ultimately, for most broadcast operators, while some operations and processes will move easily to the cloud offering more flexibility and cost savings, they still have large investments in their existing systems that are still working fine. This is why Ideal Systems developed Alice, our Cloud Integration Framework.”

Alice enables broadcasters and operators to migrate to the cloud easier while still maintaining existing systems that continue to fulfil their role. The framework can facilitate the hybrid approach to having some systems in the cloud and some on premises, and ultimately giving broadcasters the ability to benefit from edge compute and cloud compute in a managed and efficient way.

McKiernan adds, “This transition is happening now, and Ideal Systems recently deployed Alice at a multi-channel operator with over 1,200 TV channels globally in a solution that integrates multiple cloud-based and edge-compute systems.”

Why does edge computing matter?

For many companies, the cost savings alone can be a driver towards deploying an edge-computing architecture. Companies that embraced the cloud for many of their applications may have discovered that the costs in bandwidth were higher than they projected.

Increasingly, though, the biggest benefit of edge computing is the ability to process and store data faster, enabling for more efficient real-time applications that are critical to broadcasters. Like instantaneously providing the names of the apparel and the brand of the shoes that will empower Lee Zii Jia to easily leap up and down on the badminton court at the Tokyo Olympics in July.

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