Organizations rely on data, and the number of connected devices needed to support that objective continues to grow by the billions year over year.
There will be 17.08 billion connected devices in 2024, compared to 15.14 billion in 2023, according to predictions from a July 2023 report by Statista, a German market and consumer data company.
In turn, those devices will produce a mindboggling amount of data.
In 2024, 157 zettabytes of data will be generated, according to the report, "Worldwide IDC Global DataSphere Forecast, 2023-2027: It's a Distributed, Diverse, and Dynamic (3D) DataSphere," published in April 2023 by IDC. Moreover, the report estimated that 20% of that data will be generated at the edge.
Between 2022 and 2027, the volume of data generated at the edge will grow to a compound annual growth rate of 34% during the forecast period, faster than data generated at the core or on endpoints, according to the IDC report.
As organizations seek to use that avalanche of data to make split-second decisions, they need compute power that can keep up.
That's where edge computing comes in.
Edge computing is a distributed IT architecture that puts data processing, analysis and even intelligence as close as possible to the endpoints that are generating the data, in turn, enabling subsequent insights gleaned from that data to make decisions.
Computing at the edge is typically housed in purpose-built devices such as edge gateways that serve as entry points for cloud services. However, edge computing power can be housed in various devices, including the endpoints themselves. For example, a smartphone can be an endpoint as the device can provide some data processing services even when offline.
Organizations across industries are evolving the technologies that support and surround edge computing, as well as how they're using edge computing technologies.
Here are some noteworthy developments in this space to watch for in 2024.
1. Spending on edge technology will continue to soar
Market value figures vary widely, but there's consensus among multiple research and analyst reports that spending on edge is going up -- and will continue to climb.
Worldwide spending on edge computing is expected to top $208 billion in 2023, a 13.1% increase from 2022 figures, according to IDC's "Worldwide Edge Spending Guide" published in July 2023. The study also predicted that enterprise and service provider spending on hardware, software and services for edge solutions will keep up that pace through 2026, when spending will hit an expected $317 billion.
Nearly all industries have found a business need to put computing at the edge, said Yih-Khai Wong, senior analyst at ABI Research, a market research company headquartered in New York. For example, the automotive, healthcare, manufacturing and retail sectors are leading the way with edge deployments.
"These are all industries where we see a lot of noise when it comes to edge computing," Wong said.
2. Edge computing types continue to expand
The number and type of edge computing devices and deployments are expanding.
"Edge is a family of technology that includes hardware, software, data and services and ensuring that those elements are located where they can be optimized, and it's becoming much more strategic and broader in nature," said Michele Pelino, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.
Organizations across industries are deploying purpose-built edge computing devices within their own facilities, but that's only a fraction of the edge compute power out in the world today, Pelino said.
Some companies are creating second- and third-tier data centers to house edge capabilities. For example, such data centers might be housed in a commercial building to process data within that specific facility.
Additionally, organizations use content delivery networks, a collection of geographically distributed yet interconnected servers that cache content locally to speed delivery to end users.
Some organizations are buying edge computing capabilities from telecom service providers, whose widespread infrastructure and expansive reach allow them to put edge devices physically close to nearly all potential customers. The telecom operators use that proximity to offer edge computing equipment, services and supporting components such as secure access service edge, which bundles and delivers network and security-as-a service functions as a single service.
3. Edge growth creates infrastructure challenges
The distributed nature of edge computing presents challenges, and the effects of those challenges are growing alongside the demand for and deployment of edge hardware.
"There are some headwinds for edge," said David Witkowski, a senior member of the IEEE and CEO of Oku Solutions, which provides professional support services to the wireless telecommunications industry, headquartered in Aptos, Calif.
An important concern that companies face is the sustainable management of edge assets across multiple locations and devices.
"The location of the equipment will be on pedestals and roadside vaults, and that creates challenges with powering and cooling them," he said.
The overall risk of using public spaces to house edge equipment is another concern.
"It creates challenges with the security of the vaults [that house them]," Witkowski said. "These assets are located in public places that could be compromised and even getting space to place them will be challenging for companies deploying this equipment."
While telecom service providers and others building up edge computing capabilities are working through such issues, these challenges could slow down the pace of edge deployments and slow the speed of innovation and the use cases -- such as self-driving vehicles -- that rely on the technology to operate, he said.
4. More hackers are targeting edge deployments
Threat actors have noted the growing number of IoT and edge computing devices as prime targets.
Researchers have identified numerous potential threats, including the following:
- Attacks against user and endpoint devices.
- Sniffing attacks against the radio access network (RAN).
- Attacks against servers and data at the network edge.
- Sniffing attacks against endpoint (user) devices and components.
- Attacks against associated cloud workloads.
- Attacks against applications at the network edge.
- Supply chain attacks.
- Attacks against the 5G core network.
- Physical attacks against technical components such as IoT devices and abandoned assets.
- DDoS against RAN.
- Attacks against multi-access edge computing.
"We're talking about fragmented connected devices that open up doors to more bad things happening," Pelino said. "Companies need to think about security upfront and very early on."
Enterprise leaders are prioritizing edge deployments, according to AT&T Cybersecurity's 2023 Edge Ecosystem report.
The report found that security ranks third as a top area of investment for organizations, with network design, deployment and maintenance being first and overall strategy and planning coming in second.
5. Computing on the edge is becoming more powerful
Apple made news in October 2023 when it announced the arrival of its M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, the first personal computer chips built using 3-nanometer process technology that packs more transistors into a smaller space for improved speed and efficiency.
The news is one example of the growing computing power that is happening in edge devices, said Juan Orlandini, CTO of North America at Insight Enterprises, an IT services consultancy based in Tempe, Ariz.
"We can get more compute power in a tiny footprint now than we could have dreamed of before," he said. "That gives us an amazing set of capabilities and the ability to make more intelligent things happen at the edge."
6. AI capabilities are moving to the edge
That higher computing power is allowing AI to move from cloud services to the edge.
That's producing multiple benefits that could support increased innovations and more deployments, Wong said.
AI has needed the power of cloud computing to handle the vast amounts of data it processes and analyzes, he said. But sending data from endpoints to the cloud requires high bandwidth, drives up networking costs and creates latency issues.
The ability to support AI with edge computing continues to improve.
Advancements in processing power let organizations move AI capabilities into edge devices, reducing latency and costs, Wong said. That opens a host of potential uses across industries, from healthcare to manufacturing to retail.
7. 5G's growth poised to transform edge computing's capabilities
Although edge computing helps reduce latency by putting compute resources close to the endpoints generating data, the speed of 5G combined with edge computing further reduces latency to support use cases where near-real-time processing is critical.
Because 5G creates a bigger, faster pipe to carry data, it can deliver the ultra-low latency required for many applications, including the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles, advanced healthcare services such as remote telesurgery and the metaverse.
As such, many are closely watching the expansion of 5G networks.
5G is on course to become the fastest growing and most widely adopted wireless cellular technology, exceeding 4G LTE by over 2.5 billion connections in 2028, according to a September 2023 study by 5G Americas, a wireless industry trade association, working with research firm Omdia.
5G connections are expected to hit 2 billion by the end of 2023 and forecasted to reach 8 billion by 2026, surpassing the first-decade growth of LTE by more than 2.5 billion connections, according to the study.
Although those are big numbers, 5G is not yet universal, Witkowski said.
"You can't really do interesting things with the 5G network until the 5G network fully exists," he said. "That will eventually happen, but we don't have it today."
8. Hints of 6G's potential influence on edge to emerge
Even as 5G continues to roll out and be heralded for its low latency and high bandwidth, many are already working to bring 6G to the market. Short for sixth-generation wireless, 6G networks use higher frequencies and higher capacity than 5G and still deliver significantly lower latency.
The coming 6G networks will eventually replace 5G connectivity just as 5G is replacing 4G, which displaced earlier generations. As 5G provided capabilities that boosted edge computing and supported new use cases involving edge computing, 6G will offer even more possibilities. Work on 6G is underway, and many tech companies are promoting their efforts on that front, but the technology won't arrive anytime soon.
"There's a lot of discussion about what 6G might look like in the future, but it's still very much in [design]," Witkowski said. "There's no such thing as a 6G deployment yet."
But the industry is on course for eventual adoption.
"In about five years, in 2028, we'll see draft standards and release candidates, but we won't see a full-based 6G spec until 2030," he said.
Editor's note: These trends were identified by industry experts and research. This article was written in 2020. TechTarget editors revised it in 2024 to improve the reader experience.
Mary K. Pratt is an award-winning freelance journalist with a focus on covering enterprise IT, cybersecurity management and strategy.