Ruediger Stroh is Executive Vice President and General Manager, Security & Connectivity for NXP Semiconductors.
In my discussions with technology leaders from organizations such as Qualcomm and Andreesen Horowitz, I see growing evidence that a new disruption is about to occur. It’s nothing less than the fundamental change of computing as we know it. Today, the cloud is the mainframe of processing. But what happens when cloud computing ends? Now, you might think cloud computing hasn’t even yet reached its full potential, and to an extent that’s true. However, I believe the rapid acceleration of the Internet of Things will actually result in the cloud reverting back to storing data for future reference – versus processing data on an ongoing basis.
At present, networked applications widely rely on cloud services. Whether we do a Google search or use a weather app, we type the request into our mobile device, which in turn sends it to the cloud to be processed and transported back to our device. Human input and cloud processing is the current mode of operation. However, with the IoT, for the first time, nodes and sensors collect real world information from the environment autonomously -- and lots of it. Drones are data centers with wings, and manufacturing robots are data centers with arms.
With this massive edge capacity comes a catch: Due to the very nature of IoT technologies, the transmission of tremendous amounts of data via the cloud becomes a more ambitious endeavor. Consider that today’s automobiles have about 100 CPUs. For a self-driving car this number will rise to 300 – 400 and beyond. If we build a more intelligent transport system linking just a thousand cars, which will all need to communicate with the infrastructure and communication centers, we end up with an enormous distributed computing problem. Even with 5G, we will quickly reach a point at which transporting this information to the cloud, processing it there and transporting it back, will no longer be feasible to support real-time decision making. The latency of leveraging the cloud will be too slow for real-time decision making.
In the not-so-distant future, the old model, where data is generated at the edge and processed in the center, will come to its limits. Computing will shift to the edge – rapidly. In fact, IDC now forecasts that 43 percent of IoT computing will occur at the edge by 2021.
So what does this mean for your business? With literally trillions of end-point devices and new applications and business models evolving around them, the shift from center to edge is nothing less than a tremendous opportunity for those that dive in early on. For instance, how will this shift change the way riders in autonomous vehicles are insured? How will instant edge analytics benefit retailers in micro-targeting shoppers? The number of new revenue opportunities and business models will exponentially increase with the shift to the edge.
Just as trust has been the limiting factor controlling the acceptance of cloud services, the capability to provide secure solutions to shield the edge of the IoT systems will be the limiting factor controlling the speed of this new disruption. For example, smart home devices are a hotspot for private information, which could be used to determine whether or not the house is vacant; Blockchain use contains sensitive financial information; and autonomous vehicles – if hacked - pose physical threats to communities. As a consequence, the edge itself is becoming the first line of defense of integral system security.
The cloud will become the teaching and training center of the IoT. It’s here where the edge devices will develop their pattern recognition skills and where advanced machine-learning will take place. As a base for less time-critical action, the cloud will remain with us. So in a sense, the cloud is dead – but long live the cloud.
The change that is going to occur and the vast opportunities implied in edge computing are foreshadowing a new era of technology. Think of the world as a distributed computing system. To spearhead this change, we must prepare to deliver dedicated processing power at the edge, because this is where the future action takes place:
- In many cases, dedicated processing reduces response time and network congestion. Autonomous vehicles will rely crucially on real-time processing in order to make correct decisions within a fraction of a second.
- Dedicated processing will result in better user privacy, since raw data won’t be uploaded to the cloud.
- It eliminates the need to build inefficient and unresponsive centralized cloud data centers to handle the significant increase in data collection.
- Dedicated processing is more reliable at the device level.
We must also amplify our efforts to provide effective trust to make distributed computing secure. Combined hardware and software security tools that protect data privacy and security at the edge are readily available, and must now be fielded on the system level following the principle of security and privacy by design. This way, the businesses that will provide IoT services will send a signal of trust to the billions of users who will enjoy the benefits of edge computing.
Change is under way; and disruption is happening -- again.
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