The IoT is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. More connected devices and intelligent sensors are being deployed within the manufacturing process in order to improve efficiency and benefit from either predictive or preventive maintenance. However, the plentiful quantity of data collected from these devices needs to be stored and used correctly. This is why companies are using either edge or cloud computing, to keep up with the high levels of storage space required.
But, you may be asking, what is the actual difference between the two? Are cloud computing and edge computing just different terms for exactly the same thing? The simple answer is no – they are two different processes.
Let’s imagine a system architecture as a cake and the icing is the data. Cloud computing is like a Victoria sponge with the icing on the top. All of the icing is in the same place. However, edge computing can be likened to cupcakes, where the icing needs to be evenly distributed among all the cakes. Neither is a more “correct” way to make a cake, but both are equally enjoyable and have their own requirement dependent on the occasion.
There are also fundamental differences between the two. Firstly, and arguably most application-specific, is the latency of each process. Typically, edge computing is used for processing time-sensitive data, whereas cloud computing processes data that is not time-driven. Edge computing means that information is collected and stored on each device. Thus, errors can be relayed at a much faster rate to the centralised computer system. Cloud computing does not store this information on each device within the network, and therefore signal latency can cause issues when trying to retrieve data from a centralised server.
Edge computing shortens the physical distance that data has to travel and when we apply the laws of physics to this equation, a shorter distance means latency can be reduced from milliseconds to microseconds.
Security is the next factor which differentiates the two. Cloud computing allows for a higher level of security as data is not stored on a physical device but rather in a centralised server which can be accessed externally. Consequently, if a device breaks or is stolen, the data can still be retrieved. Cloud computing allows for comprehensive encryption and enhanced levels of cyber-security. The benefit of edge computing with regards to security is the distributed nature of the architecture. It is still a risk to store data spread around multiple devices as there are more points to entry – however, it then becomes easier to partially shut down compromised sections without causing damage to the entire network.
It is essential that these technologies are not misunderstood and to be seen as simply a replacement for each other. In fact, the key to an efficient manufacturing process is arguably using both methods where appropriate. Both methods have very different purposes and uses. If the project requires a large amount of data to be stored, then cloud computing is most certainly at an advantage. The user has the ability to purchase more storage space on the fly, allowing for reduced expenditure.
Both methods are application-specific. An edge computing system can have an open architecture where several different platforms and languages can be used, which can aid a multi-skilled workforce. A cloud tends to have one target platform limited to a single language, but this could be of benefit to a company that is particular about how its software is programmed.
One important note is that both forms of computing give manufacturers options. All companies have the option to use both forms of computing depending on the application, their budget and their requirement for flexibly accessing data.
By merging the data-gathering possibilities of edge computing with the processing power and storage capacity of cloud computing, manufacturers both now and in the future are able to consistently monitor their networks, maintain the smooth running of their processes, keep valuable data in the right areas, and have the ability to access the correct data as and when required. The world of manufacturing seeks two main processing requirements when it comes to data: rapid response and big volume. Both of these can be achieved though best use of both the edge and the cloud.
Is your manufacturing company unsure which architecture to adopt? Or perhaps you’d like transparency on steps similar companies have taken in the adoption of cloud and edge. Get in touch with us at www.gambica.org.uk to find out more.
by Nikesh Mistry, Sector Head, Industrial Automation, Gambica