Digital Transformation and Edge, Fog and Cloud Computing
Published on : Monday 08-11-2021
Edge, fog and cloud computer based distributed systems are ideal for digital transformation applications, says Rajabahadur V Arcot.
Companies, working on digital transformation initiatives, are required to invest in strong, powerful, scalable, and secure IT infrastructure capable of supporting the massive data collection and processing requirements. Successful and cost effective implementation of digital transformation requires putting the necessary computing power closest to where it is needed and hence the IT infrastructure is to be built around distributed computer architecture. Adoption of this architecture allows placing processing and storage resources, wherever technically desirable, closer to data generation and usage points. This is realised by the use of edge, fog and cloud computers. Edge computing is the computer processing and storage power available at locations where data generation and usage happens; fog computing provides data, compute, storage, and application services to end-users by extending cloud computing and services to the edge of the network; and cloud computing refers to internet accessed computing resources such as data storage, processing, applications, development tools, software, servers (both physical and virtual servers), and others.
These three computing resources represent different layers with each layer leveraging the capabilities of the other. The deployment of edge, fog and cloud computers facilitates performing the data processing and analysis work where the data is actually generated instead of transmitting raw data to a central server data centre and sending only the processed information that requires to be processed further by the central server. This leads to optimal use of computing resources for better performance.
Edge computing involves the deployment of computing and storage resources at the location where data is produced and is central to the success of digital transformation as it helps to unlock the potential of the vast data that IIoT and other connected devices generate. In the context of manufacturing companies, it provides an efficient and cost effective way to collect and process valuable data from various machines and equipment and machinery in industrial plants. Benefits of edge computing are that it minimises delays in data processing, facilitates real-time data processing, and reduces network traffic. The use of edge computing results in the optimal use of data processing power and in reducing the load on the central server and network.
Fog computer gathers data from edge computers or IIoT devices, processes them, and generates output. It is typically located close to a cluster of edge computers/IIoT devices. With the use of fog computing, the efficiency, security, and privacy of the overall system are improved. Working in conjunction with edge computers, fog computers improve the response time and reduce bandwidth usage as only the need-based minimal amount of data is exchanged both with the edge computer and cloud. Edge computer force multiplies the power of edge computing and is often used in cases where it is technically and economically more efficient to gather, process and act on chunks of data that are interrelated and emanate from a cluster of edge computing devices or sensors and actuators embedded to plant equipment.
Cloud computing (on-premise or public) involves leveraging a network of internet-based servers to store, manage, and process data. Use of public cloud helps to reduce the upfront capital expenses and results in cost reduction. By acting as the central data processing centre, cloud computing plays a crucial role in digital transformation. It offers massive computational power and storage space that are required for the use of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, and Industrial Internet of Things. Manufacturing companies while evaluating the use of public cloud have to take note of both its advantages and disadvantages. Availability of pay-per-use option, massive storage capacity and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), quick deployment possibility, and access-from-anywhere are some of the other advantages of public cloud computing. They have to reckon with some of the serious issues of cloud computing and they relate to disruption of service due to internet issues, vendor lock-in, data integrity, system reliability and availability, privacy, and cyber security. These issues often deter manufacturers from using cloud computing along with control and automation applications.
Advantages of distributed computer architecture
There are two primary advantages to distributed computer architecture: scalability and flexibility. Edge, fog, and cloud computing infrastructure empowers companies to take advantage of a diverse range of computing resources and data storage assets that are available. The central idea behind the use of this type of distributed IT infrastructure is to optimally utilise computing and storage resources without compromising on the technical requirements and reduce costs. It offers choices in the location of computing and storage resources; they can reside at the source of data, close to the data source, and on-premise cloud or remote public cloud. This type of architecture comes with low latency, which is a major advantage in the case of real-time applications; and hardware failures are localised. Therefore, edge, fog and cloud computer based distributed systems are ideal for digital transformation applications. They are the building blocks for the successful implementation of digital transformation.
Rajabahadur V Arcot, an Independent Industry Analyst/Columnist and Business Consultant, is Life Member of ISA and Member of ISA Smart Manufacturing & IIoT Division, an ISA accredited mentor and trainer. He writes industry and technology trend articles, market research reports, case studies, white papers, and automation & operational technology insights. He may be reached by email: email@example.com