Intelligent edge computing in a pandemic
How COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to edge.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live and work. While some changes are likely to last long after the pandemic passes, what COVID-19 has also exposed is weaknesses in the broader IT architectures that support our day-to-day life. As a result, the infrastructure shift towards intelligent edge computing will continue to be widely accelerated.
COVID-19 has made remote work or working from home ‘the new normal’ with many companies already stating that they will not return to the old ways of working, even when the pandemic has passed.
“Perhaps even more importantly, our culture has changed – and this shift has been further catalysed by the ongoing pandemic changing expectations for both employers and employees,” says Jim Holland, Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group’s Regional Director for Africa. “Bring your own device (BYOD) policies can help lessen the need for spending on hardware devices companywide while enabling employees to use their personal devices from home, and that – combined with edge computing and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – makes for less expensive and more flexible work operations.”
COVID-19 has also spurred trends in online shopping, gaming and entertainment, which are becoming the new gold standard for consumption, driven in part by lockdown policies. “These new ways of consuming media bring new challenges to traditional IT infrastructure. As more customer workloads require fast response and interlocks, edge computing is the most efficient way to address new challenges,” says Holland.
High data transmission speed and low latency enabled by edge computing supports real-time image and video handling with deep learning and other intelligent technologies to support public health precautions.
“One application created in response to COVID-19 is real-time mask and social distancing identification,” explains Holland. “In general, it is understood that an effective prevention measure against COVID-19 is to wear a mask in crowded places while maintaining physical distance. To help enforce these measures and generate data on habits, governments and other organisations explored and deployed automated, real-time detection methods.”
“The use case proving itself most appropriately today would be where edge computing is changing things in the healthcare industry,” says Holland. “In the past, healthcare providers looking for computing solutions at the edge of their networks were often bound to either the large, power-hungry equipment fit for a data centre or PC-based equipment unable to run applications at the level required.” Now, thanks to edge computing, healthcare organisations can get access to the information they need, as well as perform data analysis closer to the devices where the data is collected in the first place, without the data needing to be transmitted back to a headquarters or data centre. Increased security, easier access to live data and transmission efficiency are the three main advantages edge computing delivers to this industry.
“Ensuring that medical staff and administrators have access to data can be a major challenge. Every second counts in the healthcare sector and data must be available immediately, so the relevant action can be taken,” says Holland. “For healthcare organisations, managing critical data – whether in a data centre or the cloud – can cause concerns of reliability, bandwidth congestion and even high latency, not to mention the potential security and accessibility issues.”
And for organisations working in remote areas, or from temporary facilities (such as COVID-19 testing centres), these challenges are increased considerably. Facilities like these require compact design, low power usage and high performance. Security is of the utmost importance and, since edge servers are typically deployed outside of secure data centres, they include technology that encrypts the data stored on the device if it is tampered with, only enabling authorised users to access it.
“We might also be dealing with a temporary site where connectivity is limited but an edge device would enable connection via 4G or 5G, limiting the need for onsite data centres that require infrastructure, management and expertise. Everything on the site could be managed remotely, from deployment right through to vital data sharing,” explains Holland.
The application of digital health technologies such as edge computing in the South African healthcare context empowers healthcare providers, health professionals and patients alike, especially those with limited access to digital technologies, goods and services.
Coming out of the COVID outbreak, leaders are upgrading their business with the help of edge computing. “Edge is proving its mettle today in addressing challenges businesses are faced with and its advantages do not only apply to emergency use cases, but also for the intelligent evolution of industry as a whole,” ends Holland.