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IoT Edge [What Is It & How Does It Work?]

Wondering about the IoT Edge? We explain what the IoT edge is, how it works and why it’s needed, how 5G relates, and why it matters.

What Is IoT Edge?

IoT edge refers to the idea of processing information from IoT sensors and devices close to their point of origin to reduce latency and provide real-time data to users.

IoT sensors work by collecting data across an environment and then transmitting that data for processing. For example, when you ask Alexa to turn your lights on, your voice data is collected through a smart speaker and sent to the cloud for processing. Once that voice data is processed, your lights will turn on.

Many times you’ll notice a slight delay between the time you give a voice command and receive the action you requested. This delay is because your data has to be sent through the internet to a cloud server for processing.

In an enterprise environment, this slight delay can cause serious problems, like when an IoT air quality sensor detects a build-up of harmful gasses. Organizations use IoT edge servers to shorten the distance between the IoT sensor and the server processing its data. IoT edge servers live on the “edge” of the network and harbor enough compute resources to transform raw data into actionable information in milliseconds.

Why Businesses Need IoT Edge

IoT edge servers are vital for ultra-low latency applications such as augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and live inventory tracking. Applications that require continuous streams of changing data need lower latency to maintain accuracy.

For example, if an autonomous vehicle had to process object recognition in a cloud server hundreds of miles away, its response would be continuously delayed and inaccurate. But when that data processing is moved to an edge server a few hundred feet away, the service can function close to real time.

IoT edge servers can also segment high bandwidth tasks without impacting the rest of your network. With data processing happening behind the router, administrators can create independent VLANs for IoT traffic that don’t impact other LAN or WLAN resources.

IoT Edge Use Cases

With the technical aspects out of the way, let’s explore what applications businesses are powering with their IoT edge servers.

Predictive Maintenance and Enhanced Troubleshooting

Industrial IoT networks can benefit from edge computing by processing maintenance and environmental data in real time. For example, 5G connected oil sensors continuously report temperature and fluid levels to the IoT edge server. When temperatures or fluid levels reach certain thresholds, the server can automatically create a prioritized work order for maintenance.

The data processing aspect of IoT edge creates numerous opportunities for automation. For example, IoT edge systems can monitor room temperature and automatically turn on air conditioning units if temperatures reach a certain level.

Lastly, complex industrial and manufacturing environments often experience downtime due to unforeseen problems or extended repair times. With IoT edge processing in place, maintenance staff can wear augmented reality glasses that pinpoint the problem area through the heads-up display for the technician. This reduces the troubleshooting time for staff and provides them with accurate information regarding the problem, service history, and recommended next steps.

Enterprise Intelligence

From future factories to smart farms, every business wants to improve its processes. IoT edge computing creates the ideal environment for businesses to collect real-time data and transform that into actionable information or automated tasks.

These insights can be shared throughout the company with marketing teams, business intelligence specialists, and shareholders. Modern IoT edge servers are controlled on an application layer which allows administrators to set service levels, generate reports, and configure APIs to share insights throughout the company.

Unmatched Healthcare Services

Through 5G connectivity, hospitals can monitor critical patients more closely while collecting and processing their health information through a secure IoT edge server. In the past, healthcare facilities lacked the technology needed to continuously monitor and collect data. Thanks to IoT sensors, patients can receive the best care and benefit from faster health data processing.

Doctors can now leverage ultra-low latency 5G connections to remotely operate surgical robots miles away from their patients. IoT edge servers process the inputs in real time allowing the doctor to perform operations with virtually zero latency or delay. Lastly, residents in training can combine hands-on work with augmented reality simulations to prepare themselves for complicated procedures.

IoT Edge Architecture

Administrators can design different IoT architectures using a variety of IoT connection options. Whether you’re using Bluetooth or 5G, IoT edge computing relies on five basic layers to function.

Perception: The perception layer consists of the physical sensors, wearable technology, and end-user devices that generate and collect IoT data. Industrial sensors, smartphones, health monitors, and autonomous vehicles all exist on the perception layer.

Transport: Once a device generates data, it must be transported for processing. Transport protocols such as private / public cellular wireless (4G LTE and 5G), Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are common choices for network architecture. IoT networks can use multiple transport protocols within the same network to meet their needs. For example, Bluetooth is a great option for short-range sensors while 5G is better suited for high-performance data collection.

Processing: IoT edge is responsible for data processing. As the data arrives via the transport layer, that data is processed on an edge server. Many servers use artificial intelligence to determine what occurs after data is processed. For example, if humidity levels are too low, the IoT edge server can trigger an automation to activate a sprinkler system until levels reach optimal conditions.

Application: At the application layer, administrators control and manage IoT edge environments, devices, access controls, and reports. The application layer is designed to give administrators a simple and centralized way to manage their IoT ecosystem.

Business: The business layer is where high-level data is transformed into business intelligence for stakeholders and C-level staff. Data gathered is used to determine expenses, profitability, efficiency, and other company-wide metrics. Oftentimes API connections share data between the IoT edge servers and business intelligence platforms.

IoT Edge Challenges

While IoT edge servers have paved the way for modern enterprise applications, they aren’t without their challenges.

Orchestration - As IoT edge servers grow in size and complexity, their benefits diminish as admin tasks become more time-consuming and resource intensive. This makes creating uniform policy changes difficult as new technology, transport protocols, and edge environments are added over time.

Security - Similar to orchestration challenges, centralizing access controls and security management can be difficult across enterprise IoT environments. As complexity increases, patchwork fixes tend to be the new normal. This increases admin time as well as the likelihood that a vulnerable server will go unpatched.

Cost - Edge servers offer improved performance but at a significant cost. Depending on your requirements, edge servers need ample CPU, memory, and disk space to process vast amounts of data in real time. Many enterprises also purchase a secondary host server in the event of a catastrophic hardware failure. 

The Future of IoT Edge Computing

IoT edge servers will continue to bridge the gap between applications and data processing when cloud computing isn’t viable. However, enterprises are all too familiar with the challenges they face when managing multiple IoT edge servers.

New advancements in 5G LAN solutions and edgeless enterprise architecture will allow companies to centralize their IoT edge management and overcome many of the challenges found in traditional edge networks.

Celona 5G LANs utilize the fundamentals of private 5G networking combined with the control and reliability of private Local Area Network (LAN) operations - translating 5G wireless technology to existing enterprise IT operations, security and networks. This gives enterprises granular control over their cellular resources, allowing them to set precise throughput and latency requirements for their IoT applications.

Edgeless enterprise architecture approach provides centralized IoT management and data collection, even across distributed environments. This network design simplifies IoT orchestration even when different vendor solutions and edge servers are in play.

The Celona 5G LAN Solution

Celona partners with enterprises to plan, build, and manage private cellular IoT edge networks as a seamless turnkey solution

Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing private LTE / 5G wireless networks an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure without interrupting business operations.

To get started, check out a live demo of Celona’s solution by visiting us at celona.io/journey where you can also sign up for a custom demo or a free trial of our 5G LAN solution.

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See a Celona 5G LAN in action and learn the basics

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