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What is cloud
computing and
edge computing?:
A guide

Author: Shane Schick

Think of cloud computing and edge computing as two sides to the same coin. They both provide organizations with capabilities to address their business needs, but a successful IT strategy will leverage the best of each of their different approaches. The increased digitalization of business processes—coupled with the need to offer best-in-class performance for staff and customers—will require companies to combine the two architectural approaches. This can ultimately lead to greater adoption of cloud-integrated networks, where applications and users are connected dynamically regardless of where an organization or the users are located.

It may be helpful to better understand something about both the cloud and edge, and how they can complement each other. Let's start by answering the following question: What is cloud computing?

What is cloud computing?

Traditionally, enterprise IT was largely based on organizations setting up and managing all infrastructure and software in their own data centers, either on premises or more commonly in co-location facilities. This could lead to significant costs, as well as difficulties in utilizing their technology investments amid fluctuations in demand. There was little elasticity so IT organizations were often forced to architect their infrastructure for peak demand situations such as "Black Friday," rather than having the ability to scale up or down to match the actual demand for the applications—potentially resulting in usage and cost inefficiencies.

Cloud computing generally refers to running virtualized servers and applications on shared hardware infrastructure accessed over the internet. However, the answer to "What is cloud computing?" gets more complicated, as over time there have emerged new and different approaches to how to best run workloads in a virtualized environment. Companies might set up their own private cloud, wherein servers use virtualization software, or work with a public cloud service in which their infrastructure is hosted as a "tenant" in a cloud infrastructure hosted and managed by the cloud service provider (CSP). There are also many organizations that opt for hybrid cloud strategies, where they balance a mix of private and public workloads.

Adopting cloud-first strategies has offered enterprises a wide range of benefits. These include the ability to dynamically scale their compute resources up or down and respond to peak periods of demand (such as the holiday shopping season for e-commerce retailers). Having access to compute resources on-demand has also helped many organizations optimize their IT costs and stay current with the latest technologies.

What is edge computing?

As mobile devices and applications spread further throughout the enterprise, organizations may find sending data back and forth to a central cloud-based server introduces challenges in terms of speed, bandwidth utilization and other aspects of IT performance. This is where edge computing could prove to be highly effective.

Edge computing architectures allow data to be processed closer to the source, whether it's a conveyor belt in a factory or an autonomous vehicle. The benefits could include improved response times as well as optimized data processing.

Edge computing also offers flexibility from a deployment perspective whether organizations set up conventional servers in a more traditional data center that is closer to end users than cloud-based data centers, or whether they deploy environments that support computing at the edge.

How edge and cloud computing work hand-in-hand

Taking advantage of both the cloud and edge computing makes sense as a way for organizations to address a number of business priorities at once.

Hybrid cloud environments are often the norm for applications running marketing, customer service and other operational areas, for instance. More specialized applications that need to run at touchpoints far from a data center could be a better candidate for edge computing, even if some data from those applications needs to be sent to the cloud for additional processing or combination with other data sets.

Think of a factory floor where a production line needs to be stopped within seconds because an embedded sensor in a high-resolution camera detects an anomaly that could ruin the run. Processing large amounts of data in that scenario could be challenging in the cloud. Using edge computing would resolve those challenges to stop the run in time. Afterwards, though, data could continue to be aggregated in the cloud for further analysis to improve how the factory floor operates.

Using a distributed architecture that supports both cloud and edge computing requires some management expertise, but organizations aren't on their own with this. A managed services provider with experience offering a multi-cloud-ready network can ensure cloud and edge represent strategic opportunities rather than IT challenges.

Discover how Verizon's edge computing and IoT solutions can work together to create business value.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

  • FAQ

What is cloud computing and how does it work? +

Companies can use virtualization software to "abstract" compute resources in a public or private cloud environment. A public provider hosts infrastructure and applications on their clients' behalf.

What are the security risks of cloud computing? +

Organizations that use the cloud without creating redundant architectures, running backups or a security incident event management (SIEM) solution could risk downtime, data loss or leakage. Cloud environments could also be vulnerable to malware if they have insufficient identity and access controls.

What is PaaS in cloud computing? +

PaaS refers to "platform as a service." This means a provider offers on-demand infrastructure combined with a rich set of development tools so that enterprises can create and deploy applications faster and more easily because they are using a common tool set across their application portfolio.