A New Frontier for Edge Computing: Outer Space
Driven by an increase in mobile computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing is gaining momentum as a strategy to more efficiently process the enormous amounts of raw data now being generated by networked devices. In a recent report, Business Insider estimates that 5.6 billion IoT devices owned by enterprises and governments will use this form of computing for data collection and processing in 2020.
This change allows data to be processed at the information’s source rather than having to transmit the raw data over the network for analysis. This conserves network resources while limiting latency issues inherent to a centralized IT infrastructure — which requires data to be shuttled from its source to a remote data center and back.
How Edge Computing Is Driving ‘Out of This World’ Connectivity
In an article in Data Center Connectivity, Ihab Tarazi, CTO at Equinix, notes that the need to collect data at the edge is driving the next wave of investment in global connectivity. One technology that will be part of this new investment, Tarazi believes, will be free-space optics.
A government technology initially developed for defense purposes, free-space optics uses satellites and lasers to transmit data back to Earth rather than using fiber optic cables to do the same thing. Not only will this technology enable connectivity in currently disconnected locations, but it’ll also further enable this form of computing — by allowing data to come in from the edge of the network rather than from a centralized location.
Laser Light Communications, a company with which Equinix recently partnered, is planning to launch eight to 12 laser-enabled satellites called HALO. These satellites will circle Earth and communicate with traditional networks through ground nodes in data hubs or any “edge” location where large amounts of data originate, such as corporate campuses.
Because atmosphere issues such as cloud coverage can interfere with laser beams, a critical component of Laser Light Communications technology will be creating software that engages cognitive learning to predict weather patterns and route data traffic around impediments like clouds. As quoted in Data Center Connectivity, Robert Brumley, CEO of Laser Light Communication, suggests this software will “probably be the most disruptive part of our program, because it’s really converging predictive analytics with software-defined networks and ever changing atmospheric conditions.”
A Catalyst for New Global Architecture
Connectivity everywhere is a big benefit in itself — and if further developed through free-space optics, this connectivity can have a greater global impact. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that as more and more companies come to manage numerous connected devices and large quantities of data on their network, there will also be a strong demand for technology that can enable edge computing. Already, businesses are building out their IT infrastructure to provide last-mile device connectivity so that the computing nodes can collect and process device data. But these strategies are only the beginning in a world filled with networked devices.
Free-space optics may be the first of these technologies to succeed, but rather than being the final frontier, it’s more likely to be the first frontier in a wave of new technologies that enable edge computing and alter the architecture of global networks.