How edge computing can help save the environment

One expert says caching content at the edge and closer to its users prevents more carbon emissions.

How edge computing is making data transmission more efficient

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Mike Mattera, director of corporate sustainability for Akamai Technologies, about the benefits of edge computing. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: In a nutshell, why is edge computing the answer?

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Mike Mattera: Getting the content closer to the edge is super important. It not only helps with the environmental sustainability of it, but it also helps, I think, getting that content closer to the eyeballs. What does that mean, right? Being able to cache content at the edge really saves and effectively helps the environmental sustainability of tech operations.

Karen Roby: And for those who may or may not even understand edge computing, because there's a large audience that does and many that don't, explain how it's going to help.

Mike Mattera: With our deployed network of about 300,000 servers around the world and around 1,500 networks, we're able to cache content very close to the edge. The benefits of us doing that, it enables us to really carry that traffic and really keep it at the edge. When customers are looking for content, searchers are searching it out on the internet, we're able to keep it close to the people looking to access it, right? And having that content close, I think it really mitigates the overall impact of the carbon emission story. It really helps us eliminate waste and also helps us get the content closer to the users, really helping us limit the overall carbon emissions and detect exposure. That's for a variety of reasons. One, because we work with our data center partners to obviously green up our operations, and two, we look for meaningful ways where we can do carbon offsets.

Karen Roby: Talk a little bit about the benefits of improved response times possibly, or even saving bandwidth.

Mike Mattera: Having the content close obviously really helps with the efficiency story. You know, I think having that there and thinking about the power it takes to move content from one place to another, having the efficiency there I think really helps seeing the narrative in the story of being able to kind of limit the overall exposure of what that content could potentially cause, right? We think about power here at the end of the day, how much power it actually takes to power the internet. Having that content closer to the users not only helps on the efficiency side, but also helps limit the overall exposure to what we see with the greenhouse gas emissions, right? And if we're able to do it in an efficient way with our hardware and software, it limits the overall exposure of what that content is potentially causing.

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Karen Roby: Mike, talk about with so many more Internet of Things devices online, I mean, they're everywhere. Every business is using them in one way or another. How does that factor in?

Mike Mattera: Definitely, yeah. With the uptake of the devices, and I think over the pandemic as an example, you're getting more and more requests hitting a lot of this content, right? Being able to cache content and keep devices secure, again, that all has a power consideration at the end of the day.

I think when a lot of people think about the edge and the cloud, they always think that it's being taken care of by somebody else. It's being supplied by somebody else, right? And there's always things where, as you see, more and more people on the internet, we need to be considering that overall impact, right? So thinking of IoT, the thermostats, the cameras, the security systems coming online, right? That all has an impact in the content in which those devices are receiving. Whether that's communicating back to their home locations for updates or commuting back to those areas for security systems, as an example, being able to make sure that police are sent if somebody breaks into your house, having all of those devices, having a sustainable edge is critically important, because again, you're serving out content that has a carbon emissions impact. Being able to kind of limit that obviously is of critical importance.

Karen Roby: How long have you guys been in business, and what are the biggest changes you've seen just in the last couple of years?

Mike Mattera: Akamai comes from a startup that happened at MIT. The company was actually formed in 1998. Our CEO is actually our founder, Tom Leighton. Akamai was actually developed to solve the worldwide weight in a meaningful way. Having our kind of story and the narrative there, I think Akamai has really innovated over the years to figure out ways where we can power the internet to make it faster, more secure for folks trying to experience content all over the world.

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And our overall mission was to really build a company that was able to serve and help the internet become faster and a more usable place. And I think today with all that underlying context, we've taken a really hard look at our overall impact, not only from a carbon emissions and environmental perspective, but how Akamai can kind of solve for some of these things providing more efficient and more sustainable experiences at the edge.

So I'm very proud to say over the past almost 20, 22 years now that that Akamai has done an incredible job of being able to serve traffic and do it in a very secure, fast and sustainable way.

Karen Roby: Before I let you go, talk a little bit too about machine learning, artificial intelligence, that's all powering this.

Mike Mattera: I think a lot of our software and hardware on the back end, folks don't necessarily think how it's being powered. And just thinking about the complexity about being able to actually understand and anticipate content that needs to be served at the edge, whether it's the latest video, or the viral download, or the next game, right? Having done that on the backend and really being able to understand what content actually has to be there, I think, is overall one of the most innovative pieces, right? Thinking of the algorithms, thinking of the technology, thinking of the software that's actually helping serve that content on the backend and the innovation that it's taken to really roll that out. You know, I think at the end of the day, there are a lot of component pieces here where  the Akamai intelligent edge with machine learning and AI and the software efficiencies and hardware are certainly something that have a true and meaningful impact in everyone's everyday life, right?

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TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Mike Mattera, director of corporate sustainability for Akamai Technologies, about the benefits of edge computing.

Image: Mackenzie Burke