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Edge Computing: Clarity Over Confusion

If we can’t agree on even the most rudimentary terminology, we stand little chance of putting edge computing and all its promise into practice.

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Matt Trifiro is CMO of Vapor IO.

Editor’s Note: A small group of edge computing collaborators that include Vapor IO, Packet, Arm, Ericsson UDN and Raffay Systems recently sponsored a free-to-download report on edge computing, the State of the Edge 2018, as well as an Open Glossary to Edge Computing, and Edge Computing Landscape, an overview of the market's key players. We asked Matt Trifiro, one of the project co-chairs, to help us understand the purpose and origins of the project.

There’s no denying that edge computing is one of the most exciting technological trends to come along in a long time. At the same time, there’s no denying the truth of edge today: Nobody knows what edge computing is.

Now, this statement is a little hyperbolic. Many people claim to know what edge computing is, and some of them actually do. The difficult for anyone trying to understand this new and interesting area of technology is that few experts can agree, even on simple terms.

What is the Edge?

Let’s start with something basic. The word edge implies a location, at least in relation to other things like the parts of a network or an existing cloud computing system. So this must be simple to define, right? Unfortunately not. Industry opinions on where and what the “edge” actually is range from very specific locations, such as at the base of a cell tower, to far less-precise definitions such as ‘anything that isn’t cloud’.

Think about how difficult this makes it to have a serious, progressive discussion on edge computing. If we can’t agree on even the most rudimentary terminology, we stand little chance of putting edge computing and all its promise into practice. To do this, we need to replace hearsay with definition, and replace confusion with clarity.

But how are we going to do that? Many industry vendors, standards groups and individual researchers have tried to solidify the terminology and basic concepts that surround edge computing, but to date all of them have failed. Some of these efforts have been technically and historically wrong. Other efforts have had insufficient reach. And, still others have fallen flat because they push a specific viewpoint.

It Takes a Village

Efforts to date have often missed the mark not by a lack of technical knowledge or creativity, but by not being part of a collaborative, community-centric approach. As with all important new technologies, edge computing combines the know-how and experience from a wide range of people, and will need to continue to do so to be successful in the real world. Efforts that are driven by a single vendor or point of view are doomed to fail over time as a consequence.

A community built around furthering edge computing is the only way to make this happen. This was the approach taken with the State of the Edge report, which was created by a diverse community of people who are passionate about edge computing from a range of different backgrounds and affiliations. This free report is nearly 100 pages long and goes into significant detail on many areas of edge computing, from fundamental definitions to use cases and business implications. As well as what edge computing is, it says what it isn't.

In developing the State of Edge report, the authors identified a need for an Open Glossary of Edge Computing, which has been contributed to The Linux Foundation and is now being run as a full-blown open source project. This is where the core terms of edge computing are being defined by a collaborative community. Anybody contribute to the glossary.

The Open Glossary to Edge Computing serves as a useful resource for people who want to understand exactly what edge computing is. No longer will we have to argue endlessly about where the edge is, what is is and the myriad of related issues that spring forth from what should be simple, clear terms. Also, because it is freely licensed, the glossary may be incorporated into other projects and publications without cost.

Clarity from Confusion

Those of us working in the technology industry have a duty to simplify and communicate what may be complex ideas and concepts, not just to explain them to a layman, but to make sure that we all have a shared understanding and can bring these ideas into the real world.

It can be too easy to get wrapped up in a definition of our own creation that only we really understand, leaving us alone as the rest of the industry moves past us with a shared set of terms and concepts that can be used to communicate and implement innovative new ideas.

What is written in the State of the Edge report and its Open Glossary of Edge Computing isn’t the end; but it is the best place that we, as an industry, can start with edge computing. Its definitions will be continually updated by a rich community of those interested in the edge, and as an industry we will all be richer for it. If you are interested in edge computing, join in and make your voice heard; and become a part of this collaborative community which is dedicated to bringing edge computing out of confusion and into crystal-clear clarity.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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