In cities across the country, more computing and data processing happen at the network edge, where devices and users are located. Smart cities are starting to embrace edge computing, which enables faster data analysis and thus delivers insights in a more timely and relevant way.
Gartner reported in 2018 that around 10 percent of enterprise-generated data was created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. Gartner projected by 2025 this figure is expected to jump to 75 percent.
Edge computing allows agencies to take the power of the cloud all the way to the network edge, especially to areas where they have not been able to use it before. Agencies can perform data analytics and processing and gain insights at the edge before routing that data back to centralized data centers for further analysis.
Cities are even using edge computing to drive innovation in their smart city deployments.
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How Pittsburgh Is Using Edge Computing
Cities are increasingly deploying cloud computing solutions, but now must deploy and manage devices and network assets all the way out to the network edge. That includes many Internet of Things sensors at the heart of smart cities platforms, monitoring traffic data, infrastructure, water levels and other environmental factors.
Rather than being sent to a single centralized data center, edge computing data goes to a nearby “cloudlet,” which is essentially a small data center that may consist of a single rack of computers in a closet or a small disk drive in a vehicle that employs multilatency, elasticity and other cloud computing features.
Edge computing is about “getting smarter sensors, smarter data and that compute capacity closer to the data so you can get better insights as this data is traversing your network into what might ultimately be an enterprise cloud,” Cameron Chehreh, COO and CTO of Dell EMC Federal, tells FedTech.
Cities are using edge computing to push smart city technology forward. For example, Carnegie Mellon University’s Living Edge Lab uses Pittsburgh, where CMU is located, as a test bed for exploring edge computing and applications that generate large volumes of data and require intense processing with nearly instantaneous response times.
Antennas positioned throughout the city are connected via fiber optics to a cloudlet in the lab, which can be tapped into by signals from mobile devices in those areas.
Last year, the Living Edge Lab and Microsoft announced a two-year agreement to drive innovation in edge computing. Under the partnership, Microsoft provides the lab with edge computing hardware and software centered on the company’s Azure offering. Microsoft also supplies Azure credits, which grant the Living Edge Lab access to cloud services like artificial intelligence, IoT, storage and more. Intel, which already is associated with the lab, also contributes technology.
Las Vegas Turns to Edge Computing to Improve Traffic Safety
Across the country, Las Vegas is using Dell’s edge computing software and sensors from NTT to monitor traffic sensors and analyze data to improve road safety, especially on one-way streets. Las Vegas has been testing “new infrared cameras and lidar-based sensors that track movement without identifying individuals behind the wheel or walking and pedaling down the street,” StateScoop reports.
If the city knew how many accidents were occurring, it could potentially change signage and other measures to boost safety.
NTT’s sensors can detect collisions and near misses, using lidar, a laser-based system that measures distance and is often used in autonomous vehicle tests.
“What we’ve found out is while we didn’t have a lot of accidents on a [one-way] street, we did have a lot of people going the wrong way,” Michael Sherwood, IT director for Las Vegas, tells StateScoop. When accidents happen on one-way streets, there is a tendency for city government to want to make a quick fix, Sherwood tells Government Technology. However, that street might not have had a lot of one-way drivers, and other streets may have had more near misses. “So, we’re using edge analytics now to monitor one-way traffic,” says Sherwood.
The NTT sensors, which also collect audio information to help determine cars’ locations, use Dell’s edge computing software to compute the data at the network edge, on the sensor. The city then collects metadata from the sensors and stores it in a central database.
“Instead of sending all the data back to a core, trying to analyze it and send something back, even though that might take milliseconds, it really is not helpful if you’re trying to change a light from green to red based on a condition,” Sherwood tells StateScoop. Edge computing allows the city to make faster decisions and improve traffic safety in real time.
Edge computing is still seen as an emerging technology in many cities, but it really is just taking traditional computing and networking outside of data centers and into the world where residents live and work.
As the technology matures and city governments become more comfortable with it, they can use edge computing to deliver insights about their smart city services faster. That’s something that should be appealing to cities large and small.
This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.