The Edge Effect: What We’ve Learned about Edge AI During the Pandemic

With little warning, the pandemic swept around the world, immediately forcing enterprises to find new ways to protect employee and customer safety and comply with local health safety regulations. Many businesses accelerated their plans to move infrastructure, applications, and data to the cloud to support a dispersed workforce and increased automation. As enterprises advanced their digital transformation, the trend towards computing at the edge increased.  

Edge computing uses appliances to run applications close to data sources e.g., Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, manufacturing equipment, and local servers. Instead of sending data to the cloud or a data center for processing, and then back to the devices and systems that use it, data flows directly where it’s needed, maximizing efficiency and data value. 

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 75 percent of enterprises’ data will be created and processed outside the data center or the cloud. Additionally, ABI Research anticipates that 43 percent of artificial intelligence tasks will occur on edge devices by 2023. 

Benefits of Edge AI 

Edge computing delivers a range of benefits when used as a part of an enterprise’s digitized environment, especially in combination with artificial intelligence (AI) platforms.  

  • New efficiencies and cost savings 

Edge computing enables automation that instantly responds as data is generated. Edge computing also allows machines or robots to perform repetitive tasks, such as consistent and accurate assembly or detecting errors or product defects, freeing employees for higher-value activities.  

  • New revenues and business models 

Edge AI opens doors to innovation, for example, enabling companies to offer cloud services deployed at the edge or provide services that enhance business or consumer IoT networks.  

  • Safety, security, and compliance 

With the automation, remote monitoring, and quality control tasks enabled by edge AI, employees can perform their jobs more safely when social distancing is necessary or when potential hazards are present.  

Edge computing can also quickly respond with safety and compliance measures, such as controlling door locks or stopping an autonomous vehicle when a worker steps into the wrong zone.  

  • New customer and worker experiences 

Edge AI also delivers fast responses to user inputs and highly customized interactions based on the user’s behaviors or preferences.  

6 Edge AI Lessons Enterprises Learned During the Pandemic 

Enterprises adapting to new models, workflows, and health safety regulations during the pandemic moved quickly to accelerate their digital transformation plans by migrating infrastructure and applications to the cloud. However, in doing so, they learned (in some cases the hard way) six important lessons about the value of edge AI. 

1. Laws of Physics

Some enterprises that had previously only used their own data centers were caught off guard by the time it takes data to travel to and from a cloud, especially via SD-WAN that relies in part on the public internet. Edge eliminates that latency, improving speed, automation response, and greater productivity overall. 

2. Murphy’s Law 

This familiar law states if anything can go wrong, it will. With the speed of change in 2020, this law was compounded by the IT principle that the faster change occurs, the more opportunities there are for mistakes. Enterprises experienced first-hand the value of modular solutions and fault-tolerant systems. If a part of the system failed, it could be easily replaced while production could continue leveraging other pathways for data. Also, because edge computing isn’t dependent on network connectivity, systems could keep operating offline until service was restored. 

3. Laws of Economics 

Networking, data transmission, and cloud services costs can all typically be reduced by edge computing. When budgets are tight and spending is restricted, this is a plus for many businesses now in a time of recovery. 

4. Laws of the Land 

Some heavily regulated businesses may not have the option of using cloud applications or cloud storage due to regulatory, legal, or policy reasons. Edge gives them a path to efficiency and automation that they would otherwise not have. 

5. Laws of Matter 

No matter how hard you try, you can’t make hardware and infrastructure fit in a space that’s too small for it. Edge appliances come in all sizes and configurations, which give enterprises many more options for using them in areas where local servers and infrastructure are impossible to use. You can also choose from rugged appliances designed for use in cold temperatures, inclement weather, or other harsh conditions.    

Lessons Businesses Will Never Forget 

When employees began working remotely as much as possible and manufacturers implemented automation to enable social distancing, digital transformation changed status from a project planned for a few years in the future to an immediate priority. Much of the focus was on a transition to the cloud. However, for manufacturers and other enterprises or organizations with mission-critical processes, edge AI proved to be the optimal solution. 

The speed of technology implementation enabled businesses to see more quickly what works for their operations — and what doesn’t — and to develop a clearer picture of what their digital transformation end game will be. Although some of the lessons that businesses learned about digital transformation were difficult, the result was often a proven, optimized IT environment, including an understanding of edge AI’s value. What enterprises have learned will continue to deliver returns far beyond the ability to adapt to the current crisis.   

Author: Toby McClean
Author: Toby McClean

VP IoT and Innovation, ADLINK Technology

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