Edge computing vs. cloud computing? Nope!


Review the lists of the top edge computing companies and you will notice most major public cloud computing providers on that list. And yet the ink is barely dry on tech press articles that pitted edge against cloud, predicting that edge computing would disrupt cloud computing. 

Why did that never happen?

As I attempted to explain almost five years ago: “Edge computing and cloud computing are two very different things. One does not replace the other. But too many articles confuse IT pros by suggesting that edge computing will displace cloud computing. It’s no truer than saying PCs would displace the datacenter.”

How many of you are rolling your eyes right now? “There goes Linthicum, taking a victory lap for another prediction that came true.” Okay, yes, that happened, but this is more about understanding how technology morphs in the marketplace. It’s about how public cloud computing became the mothership of most emerging technologies, including edge computing.

Don’t get me wrong, most of what happened with edge computing during the past five years would not exist without public clouds. Conversely, there are pure edge computing companies that are not coupled to public cloud providers. 

However, the authors of most edge computing–based systems that take advantage of edge’s increased performance and decreased latency realized early on that edge computing must be at the edge of something. In most cases, edge computing resides at the edges of public cloud providers. The providers connect the edge computing systems and devices, sync and manage data, provide edge-based security services, and even offer development and deployment services purpose-built for edge computing.

The result is that most edge computing companies and technologies depend on public cloud providers to deliver core services that enable the functionality of edge computing systems. Yes, unique and innovative technologies have emerged from companies focused on edge computing. However, most companies that build edge-based development and management systems rely on public cloud computing to place transmitted data, manage security, and deal with the heavier processing (such as deep analytics and intensive artificial intelligence). As a result, edge computing drives cloud computing.

The cloud providers saw this early on. Instead of treating edge computing as a potential disruptor, they began to build cloud services that focused on the development, deployment, and management of edge-based systems. For example, several providers offered the ability to design, build, and deploy a digital replica that could be tested in the public cloud before being deployed at the edge. 

In terms of managing the data and processing at a remote location outside of the public cloud, edge computing is a proven nightmare. The public cloud providers stepped up to offer purpose-built edge computing management services to abstract the complexity of managing thousands of edge computing nodes and devices.

Utilizing the advantages of public cloud integration, edge computing truly changed how we compute. Its existence complements cloud computing and even drives the public cloud providers’ growth. That’s okay. This is not a competitive relationship but a symbiotic one.