Jul 26 2023
Data Center

Top Challenges Implementing Edge Computing for State and Local Governments

Edge computing continues to present a number of opportunities, but agencies need strategies to secure edge environments.

State and local governments are in a constant state of data gathering, and they’re gathering a whole lot of it — as much as terabytes per day. With an overabundance of information coming from dozens of sources (often smart city technology), agencies need ways to analyze data efficiently to make decisions on the fly.

And as organizations connect a burgeoning number of IoT devices to networks, hauling data back into a data center becomes more expensive and increases latency. An edge computing framework can help address these challenges.

Edge computing is a decentralized computing model where data processing and storage are performed as close as possible to where that data is generated — in other words, at the edge of a network.

Data is generated by connected devices at the edge such as IoT devices, cameras and sensors. Then, data is processed at the edge by a local server, and if data needs to be processed at a central data center, only important data is transmitted.

Benefits of Edge Computing for State and Local Governments

Essentially, an edge computing framework lets organizations analyze data more efficiently, which is particularly important for agencies that often need to make on-the-fly decisions pertaining to critical services. Edge computing also provides a cost benefit because you can keep most data local, avoiding the communications costs that come with sending all data to a data center.   

“If decisions need to be made in real time, latency could be a huge issue,” says Francisco Ramirez, chief architect for state and local government in Red Hat’s CTO organization.

“As compute power increases and form factors get smaller and hold more power, it’s easier for us to push out the data analytics to the edge of networks.”

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“The IT environment is going through a metamorphosis,” says Larry Lunetta, vice president of wireless LAN and security solutions marketing at Aruba, an HPE company.

“Edge computing is part of a broader story where you’re replicating data center architectures everywhere, from central locations to retail and department of motor vehicle branches, offices and emergency services. We’re now able to put very economic compute storage and networking resources in local places to do the edge computing that’s required.”

Edge computing continues to offer several opportunities for state and local governments, notably in video surveillance — and it’s already here, Ramirez says, with our laptops and smartphones, IoT devices and sensors. But there are still some barriers to successful edge computing that state and local governments must overcome.

What are Challenges That Come with Edge Computing?

One of the challenges that many state and local governments face with an edge computing framework is figuring out what to do with the high volume of data they collect. Management is also a challenge; infrastructure is spread out, with devices gathering data in many locations.

Without some sort of centralized management solution, organizations may not have the proper visibility to keep the flow of data running smoothly.

Security is another challenge here because edge computing carries unique risks. According to Accenture, security in IoT devices and at the edge differs from security at the IT domain.

Agencies also struggle with data silos when their infrastructure is set up in such a way that data sharing isn’t commonplace. This can be solved by making edge computing interoperable.

EXPLORE: Why smart city strategies must balance progress and privacy.

Chip George
One critical part of delivering on this integrated operations agenda is an IT infrastructure with a portfolio of products and services that are interchangeable and where agencies have the freedom to assert choice in each layer of the technology stack.”

Chip George Vice President of Public Sector at Nutanix

How Can Governments Manage Edge Computing Architecture?

Organizations can apply centralized management solutions that provide a single point of visibility for an entire network. With edge application managers, one administrator can manage application environments across thousands of edge servers and edge devices through a centralized data center.

The same techniques used to set up a switch or wireless access points at the edge can be used to set up software-defined WAN and connectivity between data centers and the cloud, Lunetta says.

“We give the network operator a single interface and a single set of tools to reduce the amount of silos or the need to learn different systems to set everything up,” he says.

Organizations must also pay close attention to how well their wireless networks are operating. According to Chip George, vice president of public sector at Nutanix, one of the hardest challenges any technology stack faces is connectivity at the edge.

“Due to long budget cycles, government agencies have an especially difficult time addressing the rapidly changing demands on connectivity that come with edge computing,” he says.

George suggests that agencies deploy and maintain their own virtual private cloud networks to maintain IP address spaces. He also recommends that edge connectivity frameworks use a workload-centric instead of network-centric approach, which would enable scrutiny of traffic to and from virtual machines no matter how their network configurations change or where they reside in the data center. 

Lunetta adds that agencies need the right switching in the edge data center to facilitate the interaction between components and to offload as many of the network functions as possible to a single centralized switch. 

LEARN ABOUT: What collective cybersecurity measures do agencies rely on?

How Can Governments Secure Edge Computing?

An organization’s attack surface only grows as more and more connected devices are added to the network. IT leaders need strong visibility across the edge infrastructure to stay on top of threats. Plus, the rise of remote work means individuals within an organization often access sensitive information through potentially unsafe internet connections.

“It used to be that you could set up a network that was all in-house, but now there’s a second branch to that equation,” Lunetta says.

“We call it the Starbucks problem: You’re sitting in Starbucks accessing a website, and you’re not going through the corporate network. How do you propagate the same security and same policies to protect those resources as you do for what’s on a campus network?”

Devices themselves need to be routinely tested for new vulnerabilities and patched accordingly. The practice of endpoint device monitoring is key. It involves achieving complete endpoint visibility by keeping track of every component of an endpoint, including which operating systems it’s running, which applications it’s hosting, and who or what can connect to them. From a networking perspective, organizations must employ zero-trust security practices using multifactor authentication.

For Ramirez, the same basic security best practices — encryption, authentication and access control, network segmentation, intrusion detection and prevention, security monitoring and patch management — still apply.

“Most people would argue from an edge perspective that what the device is doing may be more important. But good security hygiene is going to be critical with these environments, as well as with the regular enterprise environment,” Ramirez says.

21.5 billion

The number of edge devices that will be connected by 2025

Source: American City and County, “IWCE 2022: Edge computing is the backbone of future smart cities,” Mar. 24, 2022

How Can Governments Make Edge Computing Interoperable?

“A lot of the work we’re doing with states is helping them build these interoperability hubs or data networks so they can pull in the data from different edge devices to gain better insights,” Ramirez says.

According to George, a key component to delivering an integrated user experience from edge to core is an IT infrastructure that’s fully composable.

“One critical part of delivering on this integrated operations agenda is an IT infrastructure with a portfolio of products and services that are interchangeable and where agencies have the freedom to assert choice in each layer of the technology stack,” George says.

Interoperability also requires simplicity, George says, adding that a single, software-defined platform can give agencies a cloud operating model that allows infrastructure to be managed at the edge and in data centers, colocation facilities and public clouds.

Unified management tools can provide a centralized dashboard that uses AI-driven automation to take work off of IT staff. This is key for state and local governments, which continue to struggle with IT workforce shortages.

Dragos Condrea/Getty Images

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