It is likely that you are now aware of the prevalence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in modern life. Smart, connected devices such as thermostats, fridges, door locks, medical sensors, fitness trackers and security systems are making life easier and safer. IoT technology has been around for some time and is now integrated into many aspects of daily life.
As an alternative, Edge Computing is the (relatively) fresh face on the scene; it has similarities with IoT but is otherwise distinct.
Find out the similarities and dissimilarities between these two technological developments.
Simply put, Internet of Things means what exactly?
The concept of an embedded system can assist in understanding the Internet of Things. Even the smallest of devices, such as thermostats, require an operating system to operate. These gadgets have a limited amount of internal storage that is permanently connected to the circuit board, thus the operating system must be lightweight and efficient.
An embedded system can operate as a set of components designed for a specific purpose when utilizing this type of operating system. This typically includes a processor, memory and input/output devices, such as powering a thermostat.
The Internet of Things (IoT) requires many devices to be connected to a network in order to operate correctly and communicate with each other. Smart appliances, such as refrigerators, are able to sync grocery lists with smartphones due to their integrated internet connections. Thermostats, such as those from Nest, require internet access to be able to communicate with mobile devices for remote control.
Due to the criticality of these links, Internet of Things (IoT) devices must be equipped with low latency connectivity to ensure instant data transmission and reception. This is especially pertinent in applications where IoT devices are utilized to power essential infrastructure, such as robots, smart factories and autonomous vehicles.
Security is a major concern for many embedded systems. System upgrades and data processing can be challenging when vast amounts of data are required due to limited local storage capacity. Regrettably, it is not uncommon for individuals to neglect to install the latest updates. This is a frequent occurrence as manufacturers and developers of IoT devices often compromise on internal storage in order to save costs. Due to the high cost of development, many manufacturers tend to avoid introducing improvements.
Despite the fact that not all embedded devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) have a small form factor and single purpose, edge devices are a unique type of device.
First, let’s address another pressing issue.
Edge Computing: What Is It?
Edge Computing, in its most basic definition, involves the processing of data close to its source. To illustrate this concept, let us consider a traditional computing approach as an example.
If you operate a bus which requires riders to have a sufficient balance on their card before boarding, the card data is typically sent via a wireless link to a central hub where processing is undertaken in a standard way. Once the centralized server has verified the user’s account and confirmed they have sufficient funds, it will respond positively to the request. The driver will then allow the rider to board the bus.
That device on the bus does not qualify as an Internet of Things (IoT) device if it needs to compute data locally and then synchronize the resulting data with a remote server. Edge Computing in the IoT context refers to the use of a computer located in the vicinity of the device, which communicates with a remote server.
It works like this in an IoT/Edge Computing setting:
The customer scans their card, granting them access. Thanks to the Edge Computing device synchronizing with the central server and having an updated database of information, it is able to quickly verify the user’s account and approve their access, enabling them to board the bus.
Edge Computing processes transactions quickly as no data is required to be sent. However, the Edge Device must be periodically synchronized with the central server to ensure its stored data is up-to-date. This process is typically completed when the device is not in use. Edge Computing has the added benefit of increased security as data synchronization can be managed locally.
Due to the challenges posed by unreliable internet connection, Edge Computing has become increasingly important for organizations and services. These devices are part of the Internet of Things due to their capability to process data in real-time and synchronize it as necessary.
The hardware requirements for IoT Edge Computing devices are more demanding than those needed for regular IoT devices, requiring larger internal storage and more powerful processors. This is especially true when dealing with large datasets for specific applications (such as the bus example). It is essential that the infrastructure is able to support hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of user accounts.
IoT device engineering presents a more straightforward challenge than Edge Computing development. The operating system must be capable of managing localized tasks, as well as synchronizing and processing data autonomously when a device encounters a network connection or arrives at a designated location. Security is essential for both IoT and Edge Computing developers, as inadequate security measures may put user data in jeopardy.
The key difference between the Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge Computing is that the former allows for data to be computed locally in real-time and then synchronized with a centralized server at a suitable point in time. This distinction can sometimes be quite subtle.
Both IoT and Edge Computing are here to stay, as they serve very important functions in business and society. If you’re not already working with IoT and Edge Computing in your company, it won’t be long before you are.