By Jim Holland, Regional Director, Africa, Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group
Technology, in more ways than one, has become a staple tool to use in our modern world. Across the globe, the tool has encouraged new ways of working and schooling. Moreover, it has opened up a new branch of employment opportunities – within our nation. The general education levels among the youth has increased, however many businesses still find it difficult to fill vacancies, especially those requiring specialist skills in technology.
According to jobsite Indeed, the top 11 economies worldwide currently face a collective talent gap of 4.07 million jobs. To meet that need, the global workforce in the technology sector will need to increase by 145 percent. In short, digital skills are critical for future jobs. With matriculants now searching for courses in which to enrol and graduate, finding vacancies to apply for, it is imperative that South Africa’s future leaders learn the tech lingo and start considering a career in this sector as it will likely become common language in the classroom, office and boardroom.
Edge Computing, for example, will be a term that will continue to grow in mention as the country’s digital economy continues to expand. The term “edge” or “peripheral” computing is a tool particularly used in the Internet of Things (IoT) – where it is connected to devices and acts like a ‘shortcut’ to store and decipher data in the cloud. However, in an effort to understand the tool better, we need to cover some basics.
Small but mighty
If we were to introduce Edge Computing to our non-technical students or colleagues, we would start by talking about its format. Freed from the constraints of large data centre environments, the technology takes the form of a physical box, not much larger than a laptop, that can be placed on a desk, wall or ceiling. Let’s take the example of the retail sector: a retailer wishing to accelerate innovation and improve the customer experience, for example, at the checkout stage, could install an edge device in a shop if they are looking to develop the use of connected shopping carts or even payment on-demand solutions. For a manufacturer wishing to improve the quality control of production, they could place an edge device closer to the cameras in charge of monitoring the quality of products leaving the assembly line.
Beyond its small size and the absence of air-conditioning (an energy saving and environmental benefit too) the most striking benefits for Edge Computing are its use-cases. First, it enables real-time operations. Typically, data transferred between a unit and the data centre takes a relatively long time, up to one or two seconds. While this delay may seem trivial, it can have far-reaching consequences when monitoring a production line or similar process. Edge Computing can correct this and monitor each product in real-time by instantly transmitting to the nearby data gateway.
In addition to real-time management, security is highly effective
At this point in the conversation, it is likely that you’re thinking about security. Here again, Edge Computing has genuine advantages. While the shutdown of a data centre can put all company sites at risk, (as several organisations have unfortunately discovered in the last year) the Edge Computing format guarantees a certain independence for each site on which it is installed.
Hackers looking to break into an Edge Computing system from a connected camera, for instance, would not be able to access the rest of the system. And let’s not be fooled by the small size of the box: the technology is secure in both hardware and software, with the encryption key programmed to erase itself at the slightest unexpected physical movement.
The future of the data centre
The next question maybe: are data centres and cloud computing becoming obsolete? Does Edge Computing mark a shift towards new technologies that are less powerful but more relevant to today’s needs? While it is tempting to imagine our data centres coming to a halt in the near future, this will not be the case. Edge Computing operates at the periphery of a data centre, but the algorithm needs to be trained and updated by machines with enormous computing power. This will ensure that the collaboration between the two technologies will continue in the long term.
The advantage of this combination is that a trained algorithm will become more valuable. While many articles have described data as the new “gold’ for companies, algorithms are no exception to this phenomenon. Fortunately, the level of security we mentioned earlier makes even more sense in the context of protecting company data. These are all good reasons to convince your contact to take a closer look at Edge Computing!
Steps have already been taken in many sectors to switch to Edge Computing. Smart cities are already using Edge Computing to monitor the societal environment and enable 5G deployments, while the healthcare sector has a wealth of connected objects to manage data as accurately as possible. Many new uses continue to flourish thanks to Edge Computing technology.
The final point to share to understand the benefits of switching to this technology is simple. Thanks to Edge Computing, it is now possible to put computing power wherever it’s needed- and in places where you could not install a machine before. The opportunities for innovation as a result our boundless and makes it a very interesting time for the tech industry, and for many organisations to take the plunge!