Data centers require plenty of electricity, which typically comes from a fossil fuel source that unleashes carbon emissions into the air. However, now there is growing attention on how to make big data more sustainable and less harmful to the environment. Here’s a look at how edge computing can contribute to both environmental and economic sustainability.
First off, however, let’s take a quick look at the difference between edge and cloud as there can be some confusion between the two.
Edge vs. Cloud
With edge computing, you mainly need devices that are powerful enough to process and store data. Cloud computing differs in the sense that all the data is processed and stored at a large data center, instead of on multiple connected devices.
Devices themselves do not define whether they are categorized as part of edge or cloud computing. What defines an edge network is how devices access and distribute data. While cloud computing is centralized at a data center, edge computing is decentralized and occurs throughout the network on edges that connect with smartphones and other devices. In this sense, edge computing is more of a topography than a technology.
Ultimately, you should not have to decide between either the edge or the cloud. Each type of data delivery method has its pros and cons, so think of them more as options than rivals. It’s possible to use a hybrid infrastructure that utilizes both cloud and edge computing. The cloud is where to store more frequently needed data while the edge is useful for quicker access.
Autonomous vehicles are useful as a hybrid solution. They contain local data processing components and can be used with the cloud for remote monitoring or remote control purposes. Self-driving cars are equipped with video cameras and radar that collect data, which can be stored within the vehicle components.
Meanwhile, edge computing devices are being used alongside highways to monitor traffic. The data is sent to a nearby facility that houses the data. The facility then can alert local authorities when hazardous objects or debris are detected in the roadway. It can also send alerts to electronic signs on the highway, warning drivers of roadway conditions ahead.
Now that you have a better understanding of edge computing and the cloud, let’s dive into how edge computing impacts environmental and economic sustainability.
More Sustainable IoT Projects
The expansion of networks and devices on the internet raises various questions about efficient transmission and storage of data. It doesn’t make sense to send all data to the cloud because there’s a vast amount of data that isn’t worth storing or takes up too much server space that could be better allocated.
Data centers tend to be large buildings that take up an entire block to handle a wealth of data. These large facilities generated about 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, which is similar to the aviation industry. A more efficient solution for data storage is edge computing, which keeps data close to its source.
Now that businesses are increasingly relying on big data to streamline their operations, the need for edge computing is growing. Edge computing is also a sustainable solution because it reduces clutter on a network by moving data directly from one node to another rather than making a much longer trip to the cloud.
Reducing Distance and Traffic
Edge computing reduces the distance between nodes that communicate data. It also reduces the amount of traffic that travels across the network, which allows you to conserve bandwidth or use it for other purposes. The less you need to send data to the cloud, the more you can cut costs and reduce energy consumption.
Since resources on edge devices are restricted, each device should be optimized for efficiency to save on energy while still having sufficient processing power. Here are a few key ways in which the efficiency advantages of edge computing contribute to sustainability:
- Remote work – Both edge and cloud computing allow for data exchange capabilities to be useful for remote work. At the moment, the cloud has facilitated remote work, which has helped cut carbon emissions in terms of reducing physical commutes that cause the release of tons of CO2 due to traffic congestion.
- Air quality – IoT data can help improve indoor air quality and reduce harmful emissions to the outdoor environment. Edge devices have also been instrumental in cutting energy and other operational costs.
- Smart city development – The placement of IoT devices throughout a smart city infrastructure is reducing traffic congestion, emissions, and idle wait times. Smart parking meters have also allowed people to plan trips more efficiently with less driving around and wasting gas searching for places to park.
- Faster response times – The combination of sensors, satellites and drones equipped with edge computing capabilities is helping utilities respond faster to energy disruption issues. Additionally, the expansion of software-based detection systems integrated with AI technology is helping analysts detect natural disasters, like wildfires, more rapidly.
- Reversing climate change – Collecting digital intelligence at network edges can play a major role in reversing climate change. Decision-makers can be alerted about environmental harm via two-way smart grids. Utilities can already automatically shift to renewable energy sources when dropouts occur in the main grid.
An edge database is also particularly useful for specific purposes, such as independent operations that don’t rely on an internet connection. It’s also helpful for facilitating high-frequency data or accessing historical data. Additional edge devices can be used for a system that lacks the capacity for data storage. The devices might also contain machine learning software that can analyze vast amounts of data.
Shift to the Edge
Prior to the rise of edge computing in recent years, about 90 percent of enterprise data moved through the cloud. According to technology researcher Gartner, only about 25 percent of business data will be cloud-based in the coming years. Gartner projects that most data will be stored on the device of its origin, which points to the definition of edge computing.
Edge computing needs the same but scaled-down resources as a cloud-based data center. That means the device that creates and stores data needs an operating system, database, network layer and cybersecurity. The core component of edge computing is an edge database, which requires fast local data availability and decentralized data flows.
A major reason for many companies adopting edge computing is that by 2025 over 30 billion IoT devices are expected to populate the internet. These devices will account for the generation of 4.6 trillion GB of data per day. The combination of bandwidth limitations and exponential data expansion will make cloud computing less practical for big data organizations.
Up until recently, most users of edge computing were large manufacturing factories and utilities. The best example of an edge computing device is a car equipped with modern sensors. The car draws data from multiple sensors that must be synchronized. Cars are not dependent on the cloud but can integrate with the cloud for certain functions.
A GPS device used in cars for geolocation essentially involves edge computing that exchanges data between a satellite and the car. Another example of edge computing is when a wearable medical device at a patient’s home communicates directly with a hospital.
Future of Edge Computing’s Role in Environmental Sustainability
Businesses should expect edge computing to become more prominent the deeper society dives into big data. The tech sector is already on the radar of environmental activist groups to do something about data centers contributing to carbon pollution. This is because both the population and energy consumption levels are expected to grow enormously over the next few decades.
Technology providers are becoming more aware of the environmental issues surrounding mass data transmission. One way technology providers can address and help overcome these upcoming challenges is to encourage widespread adoption of edge computing.
Interest is growing in the sustainability qualities of edge computing, particularly for companies that generate and transmit a high volume of data. While the cloud serves important purposes, it doesn’t need to be the hub for all data. You can conserve bandwidth by using data collection devices that handle processing and storage, which is the essence of edge computing.