The Rush to the Edge of the Fog: Survey Shows that Cloud Computing Is No Longer Enough

A recent study I led for Futurum Research shows a massive shift in business technology adoption toward the edge of the network. Instead of using data centers and communication bandwidth to process and analyze data, more companies are increasingly keeping data processing and analysis near the edge of a network, where the data was initially collected. This is part of a larger trend, called distributed cloud, or fog computing.

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It’s important to understand edge computing in the context of fog. Cisco’s Helder Antunes, who is chairman of the OpenFog Consortium, cogently explained their relationship in a recent blog post. Essentially, fog computing is an end-to-end horizontal architecture that distributes computing storage, control, and networking functions closer to users along the cloud-to-edge-to-thing continuum. The word “edge” often refers to the edge network as opposed to the core network, with equipment such as edge routers, base stations, and home gateways. Fog represents a seamless array of computing services from the cloud to “things,” rather than treating the network edges as isolated computing platforms. The inclusion of edge with fog computing affects overall performance, recovery time, systems, efficiency, flexibility and scalability. In the Futurum study, we often use the word edge to refer to the larger context of fog computing.

This rush to fog and the edge is sweeping across all industries, from SMBs to enterprises. Our survey of 500 North American companies found:

  • 73 percent have already implemented or are in the process of implementing an edge computing strategy
  • 93 percent intend to invest in edge computing in the next 12 months
  • 72 percent believe their edge strategy is either critically or very important to improve business processes and productivity
  • 64 percent already take a distributed cloud approach, combining edge computing and data center analytics

Not only are the vast majority of companies moving toward the edge, they are adopting edge solutions more aggressively than overall technology solutions, and the trend seems to be accelerating. From 2016 to 2018, the number of companies considered “digital adopters” and “digital leaders” grew from 19 percent to 68 percent. This very fast growth in overall technology adoption was outpaced by the 73 percent of companies that are specifically investing in edge computing.

Many of these companies are deploying solutions to help them effectively combine edge computing with data center analytics. More than a quarter have already deployed integrated edge-cloud solutions, and another 36 percent are in the process of looking for such solutions.

It seems clear that most businesses both understand and accept the value proposition of edge computing. In fact, when asked how important an edge computing strategy is in improving business processes and productivity, more than 90 percent of companies believe it has some degree of importance—with 72 percent saying it is either very or critically important.

Why do people view the move from the cloud toward the edge as beneficial? Nearly 65 percent use edge computing to improve application performance, and 54 percent see it as important for real-time analytics and data streaming. These are the two most important benefits cited by respondents. The survey responses suggest that operational efficiency may be the principal driver of edge computing adoption, with data security concerns being an important secondary consideration. As companies prioritize their spending, it is only natural that they focus first on addressing existing challenges—and of course reducing costs and improving operational efficiency always seem to be the top two asks of IT departments.

Interestingly, only 16 percent of respondents listed realization of their IoT strategy as a top driver of edge computing adoption. However, we feel this number will steadily increase in the next few years. As organizations begin to integrate the IoT into their daily operations, it will be a natural progression to apply the efficiency and data security advantages of edge and fog to maturing IoT strategies. And, in fact, many advanced IoT solutions depend on the real-time or near-real-time capabilities of fog.

Our survey showed a well-developed awareness of edge computing solutions providers and a strong preference for certain brands. For data center analytics SAS is the market leader, including its Foundation, Grid, and Viya products. Cisco, which provides a fully integrated edge-and-cloud computing architecture, is the dominant provider of infrastructure and edge computing hardware. Microsoft leads a competitive field of top-tier edge computing software providers.

Overall, we see a strong and growing market for edge computing and the larger fog computing environment. Fog represents a seamless array of computing services from the cloud to the “things” at the edge, rather than treating the network edges as isolated computing platforms. We believe the move to the edge is also a move to the fog, which will boost overall performance, recovery time, systems efficiency, flexibility, and scalability.

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