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Edge computing vs Cloud computing

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  • 9 min read

With constantly advancing technologies, there often comes confusion in similar-looking words. Sometimes the way a few technologies are shown for devices, it becomes slightly difficult to draw a line between them. Similar are the technologies of Edge Computing and Cloud Computing.

Computing, ideally, is any activity that requires the use of a laptop or computer to manage, process and communicate information and data.

In this article, we will understand:

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Cloud Computing

A cloud is a network of multiple servers, storage, databases and other services accessible through the internet, all providing different functions. Initially, back in the 1990s, the cloud was linked with distributed computing, but the term cloud computing emerged in 1996. Cloud provides access to the same set of applications and files, from almost all devices, from all around the world. This is possible since these files are stored in a cloud server or data centre rather than on an individual’s device. Due to this ease of access, cloud computing is now becoming a popular option amongst individuals and businesses.

The cloud is a connection of multiple networks

Cloud computing, in its literal meaning, is the delivery of computing services using the network. The implementation of cloud computing is possible due to Virtualisation. Virtualisation is a technology that allows creating a digital, simulated computer, which can also be called a virtual machine. This behaves like a physical computer but with its separate hardware. Within the same given physical machine, two different virtual machines cannot interact or even view files and other applications between each other. They are entirely disoriented and disconnected from each other.

When multiple virtual machines are run at once, a single server serves as multiple servers. The data centre also hosts multiple data centres, serving multiple individuals and organisations together, providing cloud service to many more users. With the added benefit of cloud servers, even if an individual server goes down, the cloud server will always be backed up, online and available. Their vendors back up the cloud services on different machines across multiple regions.

The cloud services are accessible to the users through any browser or application that connects to the cloud over the internet, irrespective of the device. Cloud computing can be public or private. The public cloud services are available to everyone over the internet for a fee. In contrast, private cloud services are only available to a specific group and number of people, hosted services supplied by a system of networks. There are hybrid clouds as well, which combine elements of both public and private clouds.

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Types of cloud computing

There are four services of cloud computing.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS): SaaS applications are hosted over the internet on cloud servers and can directly be used by the users online for a small fee, without installing them locally on their devices. Examples of SaaS include Slack, Salesforce and MailChimp.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS provides companies with a platform to develop and build their applications directly over the Internet. This includes, operating systems, infrastructure and even development tools. PaaS provides the creation platform instead of the software directly. Examples of PaaS are Microsoft Azure and Heroku.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): In IaaS, the server and storage is rented from the cloud providers by the companies and then is used to build their own applications and infrastructure. IaaS provides the companies with all the material and equipment required. Examples of IaaS providers are OpenStack, Google compute Engine and DigitalOcean.
  • Function as a Service (FaaS): FaaS is a very recent addition to the cloud services and is also known as serverless computing. It simplifies the cloud applications into smaller components that run and function upon need.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Cloud computing has many advantages, which makes it a very seamless technology.

  • Major cost cut-offs, as now all applications and infrastructures dot have to be bought separately.
  • Easier and faster accessibility to files and multiple devices, irrespective of location.
  • Backup of all files, music, documents images and many more is possible immediately, hence reducing the hardware storage space.
  • Cloud providers have a wide set of policies and technologies which provide security to all the stored data in the cloud.
  • Flexibility in use as the applications can be customised to server needs.

Every coin has two faces. Although cloud computing has proved to be very beneficial and advantageous, it has its drawbacks.

  • While security is taken good care of by the means of encryption, if the encryption key is lost, the data and files disappear.
  • Internal bugs and power outrages in a specific geographic location where the servers are maintained can lead to obstruction of work in a completely different geographic location.
  • The managers and the employees, both need to learn and understand the technology properly, to avoid any mishaps or accidents, putting the entire system at risk.

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Edge Computing

The origin of Edge Computing dates back to the 1990s with the birth of the Content Delivery Network (CDN); although, it became more notable with the increasing demand for IoT applications. Edge Computing was mentioned as one of the top trends in 2018 by Gartner, who defines it as “a distributed computing topology where information processing is located close to the edge, where things and people produce or consume that information.”

Traditionally, data is produced at the customer end, moved to the internet through the corporate LAN, and processed. But with the increasing volumes of data production across multiple devices, the traditional methods are slow and inefficient. Hence, the concept of edge came in, where the storage and computing resources are shifted closer to the data production centre. This helps reduce latency issues with data, especially real-time data.

Simplifying, Edge Computation is bringing closer computing solutions and customer requirements. While initially, any data or information had to go long distances to the centralised location or cloud data centres for analysis and processing, with edge computing, this analysis and processing capabilities are bought closer to the device and user, eliminating the entire process of going to and fro the cloud data centres.

Edge computing essentially reduces the need for cloud computing but does not eradicate it completely. The edge computing services and hardware can locally process and store data from the multiple systems that produce data while sending only the relevant and essential data back to the cloud.

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Use cases

As a fast emerging technology, edge computing has made a statement and served as a boon to multiple other technologies.

  • IoT devices – By running the code and simulation of the different IoT devices itself, rather than in the cloud, increases its efficiency and user interaction interface.
  • Medical monitoring systems – When dealing with medical devices, to monitor the patient perfectly, real-time data has a lot of importance, and the devices need to react in real-time, without waiting for the cloud server to process and send information.
  • Self-driving cars – Self driving cars require real time instruction and data to avoid accidents, and hence cannot wait for the cloud server to process and send information.
  • Manufacturers and other heavy industries use edge hardware for the delay-intolerant applications, to maintain the processing power for automated coordination of heavy machinery.
  • Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Max and others, where millions of people in different locations can access these services without the central network infrastructure getting disrupted, also use edge computing mechanisms.
Netflix is an edge computing example

Advantages and Disadvantages

Edge computing has multiple advantages, which makes it a preferable and viable option for data computing and processing.

  • Lower bandwidth required since the processing unit is not the cloud, but the edge.
  • Overall, the number of server resources required are reduced.
  • Cost reduction due to the bandwidth and the server resource reduction.
  • Reduced latency since it doesn’t have to communicate with a distinct server for every tiny information.
  • Processing and analysis of data in real-time.
  • The computed work is centrally managed, hence it makes the process of encryption and privacy easier.

While it has numerous advantages, it has a few disadvantages as well.

  • The management is slightly tricky due to which the security and privacy is questionable at times, if not managed properly.
  • It can lead to increased malicious attackers due to the number of devices mixed, connected and functioning together.
  • It requires a lot of local hardware.

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Edge computing vs Cloud computing

ParameterEdge computingCloud computing
Hardware More hardware is locally required.Lesser hardware is required locally.
Working MechanismDecentralised methodology.Centralised methodology.
CostingLower cost than cloud.Slightly higher than the edge.
LatencyVery low latency.Slightly higher latency.
Security risksHigher security risks.Lower security risks.
SecurityRequires robust security plans with advanced authentication methods. Does not require an extremely robust plan.
Time valueTime-driven mechanismNot time-driven.
DataDeals mostly with real-time data. Works better with non-real-time data.
Data transferProcesses and transfers only valuable data while discarding the rest.Transfers all the data, valuable or not.
SuitabilitySuitable for medium scale companies having budget limitations.Suitable for companies dealing with large data storage and operations.

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Ishita Maheshwari

A creative nerd, TT player, an avid reader, and an engineering student.