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Alexa, Edge Computing, and the Future of Enterprise IT

Edge computing on the rise in the enterprise.

While we’re entrenched more than ever in the cloud computing era, the first-generation model of centralized cloud storage and computing has pretty much run its course. Though it may sound strange, most of the new opportunities for the cloud reside at the edge. As 75% of enterprise data is created in branch offices, on mobile devices and by IoT-enabled smart devices, it’s only natural that more and more enterprises are looking to deploy computing power and storage capabilities at the network edge, in what’s known as edge computing.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s driving edge computing, with a focus on the opportunities and challenges it represents for enterprise IT managers.

Edge Computing 101

In general terms, edge computing is an architecture that combines a cloud service located at a datacenter (often called the “core”) with an edge computing device near the end user that is capable of autonomously satisfying a portion of the application functionality.

“Alexa, find me an image of an Amazon Echo” (image courtesy of androidcentral.com)

Let’s consider the simple example of a virtual digital assistant. Present day voice-based assistant devices like Amazon’s Alexa may seem very smart, but actually are fairly rudimentary devices that merely detect “wake words” and then perform the rest of the speech to text conversion in the cloud. Sure, this reduces the compute power needed at the edge, but it’s less than optimal from a performance standpoint.

There are three big advantages in performing the voice processing at the edge:

  • Improved response time. With local speech recognition, we are sending text to the cloud rather than voice recordings. This results in much faster response, particularly for commands that can be handled without leaving your home (e.g., turning on the light), as well as queries that can be handled in the background, for example adding an item to your shopping list, or creating a reminder.
  • Offline availability. Is there anything more annoying than hearing your Alexa device say “I have trouble understanding” when all you want to do is turn off the light in your bedroom? With edge computing, your voice assistant would always be available to handle such commands even during connectivity or cloud service outages (storms, fiber cut, etc.).
  • Improved security and privacy. By minimizing the need to send sensitive information to the cloud you also reduce security risks. In our Alexa example, performing the voice recognition locally eliminates the need to send recordings to the cloud. These recordings could inadvertently contain sensitive background discussions that you’d rather keep private.

Given the snappy responsiveness, continuous availability and improved privacy offered by edge computing, odds are it won’t be long before voice assistants with this capability take the world by storm.

Edge Computing Is a Savior for Enterprise IT

While consumer applications like Alexa will benefit from edge computing soon, enterprise companies have already started to embrace edge computing for their daily operations. Edge computing enables enterprises to shift most of their business applications and workloads to the cloud.

When enterprise IT managers discuss edge to cloud, they typically think about storing and processing data generated by employees or IoT devices, at the point where it is created and consumed (at the edge). Companies leveraging edge to cloud architectures are seeing dramatic cost savings and improved productivity, without compromising on application responsiveness.

Enterprises’ Next Challenge: Managing the Data

The growing amount of information generated at the edge is driving enterprise IT executives to look for ways to control and manage unstructured data – and make that data available across the organization for effective business and IT operations.

Edge-to-cloud file services bridge this gap. They enable companies to manage their data centrally, in the core, while at the same time making that data instantly available to users at the edge. By deploying edge to cloud file services, enterprises enhance application responsiveness and availability, and allow organizations to monetize their data. These services allow for agile collaboration, while also acting as a strong backbone for data security, governance and compliance.

As edge computing goes mainstream in enterprise IT,  edge-to-cloud file services will be a key enabler for business success. By offering low latency, reliable access to files, and cloud-scale economics, edge-to-cloud file services can revolutionize the way enterprises manage their valuable data assets.

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Categories: Insight