This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 23, 2020 - November 29, 2020
Frozen screens and unstable connections during online calls are probably one of the most common experiences faced by people who have been working from home this year.
These frustrating episodes are oftentimes caused by bandwidth issues, as the internet network is strained by the huge number of people using online collaboration tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams at the same time.
But if remote working were to become common going forward, businesses will need to make significant infrastructure changes to resolve these issues. The accelerated adoption of edge computing could be the shift that needs to happen.
“Looking back [at the pandemic], more investment in edge technologies, such as a greater distribution network, may have helped mitigate some of the bandwidth issues that workers encountered while working remotely during the lockdown,” says Teoh Wooi Keat, country manager for Vertiv in Malaysia.
Edge computing refers to computing or data storage that is done at or near the source of data, instead of relying on a centralised data centre. It uses micro data centres built in decentralised locations for this.
“Micro data centres enable companies to be more agile and efficient. With servers situated near end users, device latency is reduced and network bandwidth can be allocated to applications that require stronger computing resources from the cloud,” says Teoh. Latency refers to the delay that occurs while data is being transferred after an instruction is issued.
With micro data centres, applications and devices can respond to data requests immediately. It cuts down on internet bandwidth usage, since the data can be processed near the source, and adds a layer of security since the data is not processed on a public cloud.
Businesses that have many branches and locations will find this technology particularly useful. “In the banking industry, this can be illustrated with the use of automated teller machines (ATM). Through ATMs connected to micro data centres, users are able to conduct transactions with banks in real time. Retailers are leveraging micro data centres through unmanned stores, automated checkout and cashless payments,” says Teoh.
The healthcare industry could also benefit from micro data centres, he adds. “For instance, when monitoring acutely ill patients in intensive care units, devices and sensors can rely on the real-time and rapid processing capabilities of micro data centres. Additionally, through telemedicine enabled by edge computing, health services can also be accessible to patients from remote areas.
”Going forward, edge computing would be sorely needed with the development of 5G, internet-of-things and autonomous cars.
“Soon, we’ll see traffic lights coordinating with real-time data on vehicle flow and weather conditions, and smoothly adjusting traffic to give way for emergency vehicles. With the combined capabilities of 5G and edge computing, cities will reap the benefits of an ultra-intelligent transport system,” says Teoh.
Vertiv is a US-based company that provides equipment and services for data centres. In Malaysia, Teoh observes, the company has seen an increasing number of enterprises investing in edge buildouts and deployments.
“Our customers — ranging from the government sector to the automotive industry — recognise the benefits of being able to deploy a fully integrated IT infrastructure seamlessly and efficiently,” says Teoh.
“In addition, when we conducted a survey among our customers in Asia-Pacific, 97% of them believed edge computing would be a major part of their IT strategy and investment beyond 2020.”
The implementation of the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan and other initiatives by the government has established an innovative and pro-cloud environment in Malaysia, Teoh believes. This is conducive to making Malaysia a regional data centre hub in Southeast Asia.
“While there are efforts to accelerate cloud adoption, initiatives need to be strengthened to sustain the momentum. Businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, must leverage the programmes launched by the government to jump-start and sustain digital innovation,” he says.
Could the traditional approach to IT and data centres still work for businesses going forward? Teoh believes that for those that require real-time and rapid computing, centralised data processing might not be the best solution.
They could consider micro data centres, which are rapidly deployable, compact and can transform any room into a data storage and processing centre.
“Micro data centres can reduce data processing delays, improve services and provide better customer experience. They are also more cost-effective compared with traditional site builds because of their space-saving design and features,” says Teoh.
Vertiv will continue to innovate and improve its solutions, says Teoh. “To prepare for the rollout of 5G in Malaysia, we are working to ensure that our customers’ networks are properly maintained and upgraded. Globally, Vertiv has committed to a 33% increase in R&D spend over the next three years to fuel long-term growth initiatives related to Vertiv’s core businesses such as sustainable technologies for data centres, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities.”
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