Ever try to buy something online that’s in high demand, like a new phone, only to get shut down because you can’t get the page to load? You’re a victim of distance. Your request had to go all the way to the regional data center and back, and it can’t go faster than the speed of light.

Edge computing can help cut down that distance. Here are five things to know about edge computing.

SEE: 5G: What it means for edge computing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

  1. It’s about data you don’t need to store. A lot of processing is spent sending data to a server for it to analyze and then decide to act on. If the analysis can happen closer to you, that reduces what has to be sent to the data center and speeds things along. A great example is autonomous cars reacting to changing traffic conditions by getting data from nearby sensors directly, instead of from a central server.
  2. It depends a little on smart devices. An Internet of Things device with a little machine learning can help run things at the edge that otherwise would have to go up into the cloud. For instance, those traffic sensors need to be smart enough to know what to tell the cars.
  3. 5G will help. The vast improvements in lag and latency obviously help but also the ability to have more devices on a 5G node means there’s more room on a network to have edge devices. Like, once again, those traffic sensors.
  4. It can help the office, too. Virtual desktops can save money, increase security and allow mobility. To make them practical, you don’t just need a fast connection you need a close connection. Lightweight apps that can do most tasks from nearby edge computing resources make virtual desktops much more viable.
  5. It’s going to take work. Edge computing is a few years out and meanwhile everyone is rewriting apps for the cloud. They may have to re-re-write them for the edge at some point, so keep that in mind. Not all the data will stay at rest in the data center forever.

Yes, someday online games will be just as good on mobile, and everyone will have an equal chance to get BTS tickets no matter how close to the data center they live. That’s when we’ll all be living on the edge.

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Image: iStock/metamorworks