Edge computing changes everything, including your mobile strategy
It’s tempting to think of edge computing or the Internet of Things (IoT) strictly as something new that you’ll be adding to your enterprise architecture in the coming years. Your company has an enterprise architecture, and now thanks to the IoT revolution you’ll be adding lots of new internet-connected devices, which, depending on your line of business, might be actuators on a factory floor, sensors in a power station cooling tower, or GPS units on a fleet of tractor trailers.
But in reality, IoT and edge computing are not capabilities that are added separately to a company’s existing IT architecture and landscape. Rather, they need to be integrated into existing architectures to deliver on the company’s desired business outcomes.
For example, since the advent of smartphones, today it would be a rare occurrence that a business would not have a mobile strategy in order to be competitive. Ten or fifteen years ago, this strategy might have called for making email and CRM apps available to the "road warriors" on your sales team. Then, it might have involved adopting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, which may have kept your network administrators and security officers busy since the late 1990’s. And now customers expect that a business has a customer-facing mobile app, regardless of the type of mobile device, phone, tablet, etc. is being used.
You probably consider all of the work settled now -- BYOD is the norm. In fact, the acronym is hardly even used anymore, since in most businesses, the ability to support consumer-selected mobile device is just expected.
If asked about your IT priorities, you might say you have your mobile strategy nailed down and now you’re looking at new initiatives, such as an AI or edge computing strategy. But if you think edge computing through, you’ll see that it requires you to rethink your other strategies as well, including your mobile strategy.
Introducing the Mobile Edge
Imagine a courier delivery services company that wants to take advantage of GPS data for its delivery fleet. The fleet comprises tens of thousands of vehicles, ranging from small delivery vans to tractor trailers. The company could reasonably consider purchasing a GPS unit for each vehicle and retrofitting its fleet, as many companies with fleets do today.
Of course, drivers of these vehicles are already carrying mobile phones. Really, who isn’t these days?
These drivers are also likely getting critical information over their smartphones for optimized route plans, weather updates, road conditions and alerts, and so on. Furthermore, through the use of location services, other mobile applications and people know where the drivers are at all times.
But mobile phone and technology can be utilized for so much more than routes, weather, and location data in order to provide better customer experiences for people expecting their deliveries on time. This is where the mobile edge comes in, integrating edge computing with mobile computing.
For many years now, drivers have relied on mobile technology for discovering optimized delivery routes, helping reduce fuel consumption and improving delivery times. What about taking that technology to the next level and monitoring critical aspects of the vehicle itself, such as temperature, oil pressures, tire pressures, and fuel levels, for the purpose of reducing delivery disruptions and creating more happy customers? Technology already exists today for obtaining this data from the vehicle and making it available over Bluetooth. So now how does this data make its way to the driver and a fleet monitoring center? You guessed it: that very same smartphone the driver is already carrying. This is an example of mobile edge: using the power of the smartphone as the data integration hub at the edge.
Once mobile edge technology is available, why would a courier delivery service invest so much in installing dedicated GPS hardware and capabilities into a fleet of vehicles when this same location data can be obtained from the driver’s smartphone?
Smartphones are very powerful now. An iPhone X, for example, scores over 10,000 on a Geekbench 4 benchmark. And most modern smartphones have anywhere from 64 to 256 GB of storage. The company could then treat smartphones not just as edge devices but also as edge gateways. Other sensors and edge devices on delivery vehicles could communicate over Bluetooth with the smartphones, which in turn would connect to cloud applications and other network services over a cellular network.
This approach transforms each driver’s smartphone from being just a mobile device with custom apps. Now it’s also an edge device, reporting GPS data back to a logistics application running in the cloud. And it’s also an edge gateway, collecting local sensor data, analyzing it in real time, and raising alerts or triggering workflows based on certain conditions. The smartphone would run its default OS, along with mobile apps and edge apps. To connect to Bluetooth sensors, it would likely require integration software, and perhaps some on-board data analysis and data transformation software as well.
Rethinking IT Strategies
Using smartphones as edge gateways is a perfectly reasonable and cost-effective approach to dealing with data collection and decision-making at the network edge. I call this approach to edge computing the mobile edge, combining the features usually thought of as mobile computing and edge computing.
There are an infinite number of use cases across industries whereby businesses can gain a competitive advantage by leveraging mobiles devices such as smartphones and tablets as part of a mobile edge strategy. Given the power of mobile phones today, they are certain to become more ubiquitous as edge gateways, bringing about more innovative applications. There is still a need for industrial edge gateways, but it seems foolish to overlook the role that smartphones—or tablets or laptops, for that matter -- can play in this rapidly evolving world of internet-connected devices.
But to recognize the opportunities that these use cases provide, CIOs, enterprise architects, and others must learn to think of edge computing as something that can be integrated with other areas of IT, rather than viewing it as something new and special in isolation.
In nutshell: when it comes to edge computing, do not think simply edge computing OR your other IT strategies. Think edge computing AND.
Michael Morton is the Chief Technology Officer of Dell Boomi, where he drives product direction and innovation. He has been leading and producing a wide range of enterprise IT solutions for over 25 years. Prior to joining Dell Boomi in 2013, Michael had an impressive career with IBM, where he became an IBM Master Inventor and worked directly with a number of Fortune 100 Companies. He was a founding developer and Chief Architect of IBM WebSphere Application Server, providing architecture leadership on the IBM InfoSphere data integration and IBM Tivoli systems management family of products.