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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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4 Reasons Why Edge Computing is Crucial to Industry 4.0 Success

The rapid adoption of Industry 4.0 technology—especially internet of things (IoT) devices—has put a serious strain on businesses’ internet and networking infrastructure. Solutions like edge computing are increasingly necessary for businesses that want their connections to stay fast and reliable. With edge computing, businesses shift their data processing closer to network devices, away from the centralized data processing locations used in traditional cloud computing. As a result, edge devices can have faster, more reliable connections to the cloud. Edge computing is becoming so important to Industry 4.0—and likely necessary to business success in the future.

1. Reduced Latency

One of the most often-cited advantages of edge computing is its ability to speed up communication between edge devices and the cloud. By bringing processing power closer to devices at the edge, it’s possible for business owners to significantly reduce the strain put upon centralized cloud data centers and reduce edge device latency.

This lower latency will enable businesses to take full advantage of key Industry 4.0 technologies, especially the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and machine learning. For example, imagine an automated maintenance system that regularly sends data to the cloud for analysis, then adjusts machine operation based on that analysis. The closer to real-time the algorithm needs to be, the greater the impact that high latency will have on its effectiveness.

With a centralized cloud data center, edge devices that offload processing to the cloud may spend a significant amount of time waiting for a response. These delays may be only fractions of a second, but over time, they can build up, reducing the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. This reduced latency will limit the algorithm’s ability to respond instantly to developing maintenance problems.

By shifting compute power to edge network nodes, device owners can effectively reduce much of this latency, achieving closet-to-real time computing and reporting. This reduced latency is good for many Industry 4.0 applications. It could become especially important as 5G improves connection speeds for IoT devices, making processing delays in the cloud more of a bottleneck for businesses. Outside of heavy industry, technology like self-driving cars and surgical robotics will also require close-to-real time communication with the cloud. Edge computing will likely be necessary for these innovations as well.

2. Greater Reliability

Local data centers can also provide stronger and more reliable connections for edge devices. Connections to closer data centers may be more consistent than connections made to distant data centers. Stable connections can help businesses maximize device performance and ensure that there are no gaps in data collection or analysis operations. Connection strength is particularly important for devices that need a continuous connection to the cloud to function correctly—like autonomous robots and drones that require cloud resources for navigation, or real-time monitoring systems that need connectivity to report issues as they arise.

Improved latency, the ability to prioritize traffic more effectively, and improved connection reliability could help make IoT monitoring much more practical—especially as businesses begin to scale up their IoT fleets, putting more stress on their network infrastructure.

3. Advanced Scalability

Rapid scalability is essential in the IoT era, and distributed edge nodes may be much more scalable than large, centralized data centers. At the same time, they may help businesses more rapidly scale up IoT fleets by reducing the strain upon centralized cloud infrastructure.

Data centers capable of supporting IoT devices are a major investment. Typically, when businesses need more processing power, they purchase additional hardware for on-site data centers or invest in cloud resources from cloud providers. These providers may have data centers dispersed around the country or around the globe.

It is typically difficult to scale up physical infrastructure quickly. Network engineers may need significant time to source, install, and activate the various types of server hardware needed to provide cloud resources. Data center storage space and cooling may also become serious challenges as a business’s need for processing power changes.

With edge computing, businesses will be able to scale faster while having more control as to where cloud resources are located as they scale operations up. This approach to cloud computing can also provide businesses with greater visibility into the network and a better understanding of where their data is being stored and processed. Edge computing may also provide a closer relationship with edge node operators than would be possible with cloud computing providers, potentially encouraging stronger business relationships and improved communication.

4. Improved Cybersecurity

The adoption of edge computing can also help businesses improve cybersecurity and keep both IoT data and their networks safe from attack. The centralized nature of cloud data centers can make them extremely vulnerable to attack. Hackers wanting to seize information from many businesses or targets can do so by breaking into a single network. Distributing important data and assets can make business data storage less of a tempting target for hackers. Almost every business is vulnerable to cyber-attacks right now, including major enterprises and small businesses.

At the same time, security research shows that attacks are both on the rise and likely to become even more frequent in the near future. Cybersecurity is more important than ever and investing in cloud resources without considering cybercrime may leave sensitive data vulnerable to an attack. Edge computing, combined with other strategies for protecting IoT devices, can be a valuable tool for businesses wanting to both improve the performance of their IoT devices and keep their networks safe. 

How Edge Computing Will Support the Growth of Industry 4.0

IoT is rapidly becoming a crucial part of modern industrial and business operations. IoT tools are helping to support real-time monitoring operations, smart building infrastructure, autonomous robots, and other key innovations. As IoT becomes more important, however, internet connectivity will also become critical. Edge computing can help businesses take full advantage of IoT, and related Industry 4.0 technologies, by providing reduced latency, more reliable connections, and easier scalability. Edge computing may also help businesses keep their networks secure, protecting their data against the growing threat of cybercrime.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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