Close-up of a green computer chip

Edge computing is on the verge of a breakthrough. So, how can companies connect it to value? The answer is a critical mix of technology and trust.

“For edge computing to be the next transformative architecture, it will require a confluence of 5G, AI and industrial devices,” said Grant Thornton National Technology Industry Leader Steve Perkins. TechRepublic recently agreed that companies will soon integrate edge computing with AI “and the widespread proliferation of 5G will make edge use cases more practical.” Regardless of whether edge computing is the biggest breakthrough of next year, it will certainly advance as companies integrate it into heterogeneous and constantly evolving architectures with 5G and AI.

That close integration requires a shift of analytics and decision making – from centralized on-premise or cloud-based systems, out to the edges of the network where data can be immediately analyzed and acted upon.

The shift from centralization to decentralization is part of the cyclical evolution of processing, Perkins said. “As computer technologies have evolved, new architectures transform business models. But the way the technology industry reacts is consistent.” Following the evolution of mainframe, client/server, personal computers, internet and cloud, you can see a repeating cycle between centralization and decentralization. Forbes noted that “Computers are once again shifting from a centralized, to a distributed way of working. And edge computing is the key.”

The path of evolution

As each new technology has evolved, it offered advantages over the last one. Some key advantages of edge computing are faster processing speeds and reduced network traffic. Since processing happens in devices at the “edge” of a network, devices are still connected to a network but they handle more work on their own.

Like previous technologies, the business value for edge computing is currently evolving through some fundamental stages:

  1. Early entrants eventually get “good enough” performance to scale
  2. A low-capability, low-feature, low-price version becomes “good enough”
  3. A confluence of technologies breaks through to make the architecture “workable”
  4. New models integrate trust, scalability, transparency and security
  5. Established leaders realize the viability of the technology, sometimes struggling to catch the wave
  6. Native companies scale up to become industry leaders
  7. Native companies develop an ecosystem platform to address functional shortfalls, control outcomes and grow revenue
  8. Traditional companies go on an acquisition spree, with challenges to integrate disparate products
  9. Usage matures for about a decade, as another transformation begins

The risk at the edge

Each new architecture has brought new challenges and risks. An edge computing architecture that pushes analytics and decision making out to the edge of a network will shorten the “data-decision-action loop”, but it also raises significant challenges for security and broader trust.

“When you’re protecting everything at the edge of a network, you can’t just build a higher wall and dig deeper ditches,” Perkins said. The decentralized nature of the assets requires a fundamentally different approach. So, as companies move toward edge computing, how can they ensure the security needed to drive user adoption and continued evolution?

“Trust is at the center of broad adoption for every new architecture,” Perkins said. That trust centers on six key promises – edge computing solutions must be:

  1. reliable
  2. transparent
  3. secure
  4. private
  5. scalable
  6. affordable

Trust must begin in the product itself. Tech companies must design the six promises into any product that is going to play a long-lasting role in driving the evolution of edge computing. Tech companies have this in their development DNA.

Yet, trust must extend beyond the product as well. Given the interrelated nature of today’s solutions and services, especially with the essential confluence of edge computing with industrial products, all companies must ensure the promises of trust throughout product ecosystems. These ecosystems will extend across geographies and introduce a plethora of differing standards and regulations from around the world.

The ultimate key is for tech companies to understand how and where their customers demand trust, then to develop products that can deliver. It’s the edge computing products that can deliver this critical mix of technology and trust which will ultimately win out in the race to evolution.

This article was originally published on the Grant Thornton blog