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Living on the Edge: Where Data Processing Happens in Real Time

Bruce Blaho, Chief Technologist for HPI’s Workstations Global Business Unit

February 4, 2020  |  Cloud  •  Data Center


For decades, data has been processed in centralized data centers. No matter where that information was collected it had to be sent back to on-premises servers to be analyzed. Even with the advent of such revolutionary technology as cloud computing, processing power has always lived in the data center.

That made it difficult for people like government researchers, auditors or investigators who needed to process data out in the field, in real time. The relay of information between device and server could cost precious minutes or hours.

But in recent years two significant changes have occurred: in small devices, like tablets and smartphones, processing has gotten exponentially more powerful and storage has grown to hold the vast amounts of data being collected at the edge. Beyond that, graphics processing units (GPU) have gotten smaller and more powerful and storage has become more accessible.

This recent convergence of speed, power and storage has created a whole new kind of computing that allows users to analyze reams of data right where it’s collected. It’s called edge computing and analysts predict that by 2022, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed at the edge—outside the traditional centralized data center or cloud.

Edge computing enables real-time data processing without latency. It allows smart applications and devices to respond to data almost instantaneously as it’s being created, eliminating lag time. This is critical for federal agencies looking to not only deliver on their missions, but also innovate into the future.

What should agencies be looking for in an edge computing solution?

First, make sure the equipment allows your agency to utilize the full potential of the edge, rather than just a pared down version of what you get in your on-prem data centers. You shouldn’t need to compromise when processing information out in the field.

Second, look for a package with enterprise-class software-defined storage. Even with all the processing power in the world, edge computing isn’t much use if you can’t have the data on hand when you need it.

Last, agencies need to make sure their edge equipment is ruggedized for any situation workers may experience out in the field. Edge solutions need to be designed to reside in environmentally harsh, space-constrained environment.

How does this help federal agencies?

In a traditional cloud environment, data is collected throughout the network and brought back to the main servers for processing. This became standard operating procedure largely due to the fact that most devices connected to the outer edge of the network didn’t have enough compute or storage to process the data. So that information had to be sent back to those more powerful, centralized machines.

Imagine an Environmental Protection Agency researcher is testing streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for potentially lethal toxins. In the past, that scientist would have to send all their data back to a centralized server to be processed. Now, they can collect samples and immediately test them against banks of other samples, giving preliminary results in minutes rather than hours.

How about a more dire scenario? A U.S. Army Special Forces team is dropped into hostile territory. Their mission to not only complete directed tasks, but also get out of the situation alive. That could mean collecting data on enemy troop movements in real time to see the safest route. With edge computing, the team could process that data in seconds right on their own devices. Previously, it would have had to be sent all the way back to the servers. That’s a lot of time to be waiting for info when your life is on the line.

As the federal government continues its modernization efforts, it should certainly look to revolutionary technologies like cloud, AI and ML. But where they can make a real difference is at the edge, by creating an environment where data can be processed right where it’s collected, This represents a monumental shift in how federal agencies deliver on their missions.

For more information on HPI’s edge computing solutions, visit the Iron Bow website.


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