What to know about planning mobile edge computing (MEC) systems

A wealth of standards, possible architectures and applications makes careful planning of mobile edge systems important, difficult.

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Mobile edge computing (MEC) is a network architecture that supports compute, analytics and storage capacity at the edge of the network, and proponents say it provides substantial performance benefits for applications requiring low latency, especially IoT applications.

But MEC deployment is complicated by the lack of mature standards and the sheer number of standards and architectural options. Each IoT deployment will have unique requirements for latency, performance, frequency, amount of data and cost.

IT leaders should design MEC connectivity architectures with flexibility and adaptability in mind.

The focus of this article is on business mobile edge computing and its relationship to IoT and does not address MEC technologies that enhance 5G RAN architectures implemented by mobile operators. (Note: Due to the popular use cases such as IoT, MEC is used as a generic term to encompass almost all edge computing architectures.)

The impact of IoT on the enterprise

The need for MEC stems in large part to the rise of the internet of things, with millions of devices and sensors now connected to the Internet. IoT is an architecture for all  types of devices and sensors to connect to edge, centralized or cloud-based data centers.

Insights derived from IoT data help organizations improve their operational efficiency and provide improved services to their customers. IT organizations report challenges providing low-latency connectivity, and managing and securing a large number of IoT devices.

The case for mobile edge computing

IT systems have become increasing centralized in the era of public and private cloud.  The vast majority of processing, analytics and storage capacity in enterprise organizations resides in a few centralized data centers or in the public cloud. For this data to be analyzed and acted upon, traffic must flow to and from end devices and the data center. Proponents of MEC cite significant benefits for building out compute and storage capacity much closer to where the data is created – at the edge of the network.

MEC applications are typically driven by the need for very low latency. Round-trips between devices and data centers can be up to a second or more. MEC architectures can deliver predictable millisecond latency, which may be critical for manufacturing, health or public safety applications.

The sheer number of IoT devices and/or the volume of data they generate can create significant challenges for designing the network. MEC provides for real-time data analysis and vastly reduces the amount and frequency of the data required to be sent to a distant centralized location.

MEC architectures can provide additional benefits depending on application requirements:

  • High availability – improve the redundancy and reliability of the application
  • Security – by keeping sensitive data in local locations and not exposing it to the Internet
  • Lower bandwidth costs – by reducing the amount of data sent over the wide area network
  • Location awareness – for applications like

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