What started as the IT “center” has gradually spread to the farthest flung business asset an enterprise employs.
Today’s enterprise can stretch from here to the highest mountain, to the remotest location or to every single business asset - static or in motion.
The driver is the merger of IT and OT (operational technology) worlds, as Internet of Things adoption accelerates. The proliferation of devices on the edge is in turn being driven by the deployment of artificial intelligence at the edge – smart devices that can make operational decisions at a fraction of the time it would take to send data to the cloud, to the IT center or to anywhere. This is the world of “fog computing,” the low-hanging cloud I guess, and another generation of buzzwords.
Importantly though, and right in line with Software AG’s customer-centric culture, it is another major step in providing customer independence and agility – the ability to make decisions where they make most sense, where they can make the biggest impact. And agility is no more than the freedom to move when any unpredictable industry change that is going to happen actually happens.
Not every decision needs be made at the edge. Sub-second decisions (check this for a great example) are only needed in some situations, but in business operations this is the case more often than not. AI at the edge gives enterprises the freedom to evaluate the optimal balance between cloud computational and storage costs, data security, network availability and the power requirements of edge analytics.
Lowering the power requirements for devices at the edge will be a major hardware challenge in the coming decade. Predictions and estimates are for 40 Zettabytes of data to be produced annually by 2020 and it won’t stop growing there. 40 Zettabytes is in the same range as every word spoken, in every language, since humankind emerged. Unprovable yes, but some indication of how big 40 Zettabytes is.
To think of transferring anything like this humongous amount of data to anywhere for analysis, looking for the needles in this huge haystack (never mind the legal implications of sending and storing private or sensitive data), is absurd, so analytical filtering at the edge will mature at an incredible pace. As will the business opportunities.
But back to agility and back to the center. This world of distributed computing, distributed intelligence, distributed storage and distributed, autonomous business decisions (and even the choice of where to place all of these) puts even more demand on having a well-defined IT architecture, optimized business processes and a clear vision of digital transformation strategy.
The journey does start at the center. I see this when I review our major sales successes. Taking Q4 last year, yes there are major IoT deals with enterprises well on their transformational way, but there are also many, many enterprises using enterprise architecture management technology or business process modeling to prepare for the incredible digitalization journeys they are embarking on! This is still a young market.
And what lies beyond today’s edge? Who knows? There are the ocean floors, the rain forests, we humans ourselves and many, many places where - at the very least - sensor monitoring will identify environmental or health problems early and in time. Intelligent local decisions will save lives. It seems that no matter how many steps this industry takes we are always just at the beginning of something bigger, greater and more beneficial. Pushing the envelope to the edge and beyond will bring innovation to new heights. Or depths.