The Evolution of Data – What’s Happening at the Edge?

Success at the edge ranges from autonomous and connected cars to smart security, smart cities, and drones for search and rescue.

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As we discuss the evolution of the data center in this series, we would be remiss to not talk about how computing is moving closer to where data is created and consumed - at the network edge.

If you think about the edge, it’s expected that there will be 30+ billion connected devices by 20211 which is more than three per person on Earth.  In addition, as smart sensors are placed to connect billions of "things" around the world, new Internet of Things (IoT) applications are emerging in virtually every industry, large or small, around the world. 5G is enabling even more possibilities for IoT and AI at scale. All of this is driving new edge architectures and bringing compute and storage closer to where data is being gathered – meaning IT and business leaders can capture and transform data into valuable insights faster than ever before.  

As a leading provider of storage solutions from edge to core to cloud, here are some of the top edge use cases we’re seeing today:

1) Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Down the road, vehicles will reach Level 5 autonomy and drive themselves entirely without human intervention. Today, however, car makers and automotive startups are working on getting levels 3 and 4 self-driving technology right. Cameras, radar, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), and a host of other onboard sensors are being used to capture information about road conditions, inform appropriate driving actions, and prevent potential accidents. To make this happen, nearly 1terabyte of data will be stored onboard in the near-term, and this amount could balloon to 2+ terabytes in the next decade2.

Yet, there’s more to the cars of tomorrow than just autonomous driving. Cars will communicate with each other, the road infrastructure, and, perhaps someday, even pedestrians by using “vehicle-to-everything” or “V2X” technology. Fleets of autonomous vehicles could be managed through this type of communication, making travel faster and safer.

2) Smart Security

Historically, security systems often simply used a low-resolution camera to passively capture video. This trend held whether at private residences, commercial properties, or on-board public transportation. Now, smart security systems are being purpose-built to capture, store, and analyze continuous video streams. On top of the 4K video captured by high-resolution cameras, these systems can use an analytics layer with machine learning software to carry out pattern recognition and motion detection. These smarter cameras are increasingly deployed on public transportation and at venues, and these real-time insights play a meaningful role in public safety – thanks to robust storage and computing at the edge.

3) Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Connected Devices

Today’s factories are using IoT-enabled machines to work smarter, not harder. By equipping machines with sensors, factory managers can more accurately map machine workloads, inputs, and outputs. They can also more closely track machine wear-and-tear, which leads to maintenance that is predictive rather than reactive and improves lifespan. With these features, factories are increasingly becoming automated, thanks to the wave of Industry 4.0. Machine-to-machine (M2M) devices typically use embedded and removable flash solutions to aggregate data into a single stream at the edge. This is used to monitor and react to changing conditions on the factory floor. At the same time, some data is passed on to the central cloud or data center for further processing.

4) Supply Chains of the Future

Another IoT use case is in supply chains, which are increasingly global and complex. Customer requirements evolve rapidly, products have to be procured, and shipping and delivery routes have to be coordinated. In response, companies are creating connected enterprise systems and using data modeling as a key part of a broader data management strategy. Low-power IoT devices are also being used to track assets throughout the supply chain, and monitor product quality such as temperature and vibration and to track shipping container openings. By using IoT-enabled devices on transportation routes, further improvements can be made to route planning by collecting in-transit, supply chain data.

Check out this recent blog post to see how Western Digital is building its future supply chain with data science – leading to better shipment consolidation, reliability, cost, and time in transit.

5) Drones for Industrial and Search & Rescue Operations

For cinematographers and photographers, drones have helped record stunning landscapes previously unavailable to visual artists. But these flying devices aren’t just used for this purpose. Oil rig workers are using drones to complete full rig inspections quicker, without sacrificing worker safety or production downtime. E-commerce companies are looking into drone delivery of their buyers’ goods to their front doorstep. Even nonprofits are making use of drones to monitor deforestation in environmentally-fragile communities.

Outside of commercial uses, drones are also serving the public good in search and rescue missions. These machines are helping search and rescue teams locate victims more quickly, evaluate the status of victims, and map the right path for rescue missions. In dangerous mountain rescues, successful drone operations require high-performance and high-capacity data storage. This recent white paper shows how reliable storage makes a difference in life-threatening emergencies.

6) Smart Cities: Energy, Transportation, Parking, and More

One of the most promising IoT use cases is in creating smarter, more efficient cities. Public energy grids can be optimized to balance workloads, predict energy surges, and distribute energy more equitably to customers. The same goes for transportation systems in dense, urban environments. Traffic lights can be synced to adapt to traffic conditions in real-time. During an emergency, first responders can communicate with traffic lights to synchronize and provide direct access to critical locations. Other apps digitally track parking, so that available spaces are automatically sent as push notifications to drivers looking for a place to park.

7) Smart Agriculture

Today’s farmers are bringing the power of IoT to streamline their operations. As the use of free-range livestock becomes widely adopted, connected technology can track animals as they graze in open pastures. Smart sensors can also be placed in irrigation systems to reduce water consumption, creating just the right moisture level in soil for a given crop. It’s even being used to watch over factors such as humidity and temperature in composting. Additionally, farmers can keep tabs on their equipment, mapping out where each item is, tracking its performance, and carrying out predictive maintenance. Outside of traditional farms, wine producers are using IoT devices to understand grapevine health and sugar levels in grapes.

IoT at Data the Edge

These IoT use cases demonstrate the importance of data at the edge and the creation of new architectures that are driving industry transformation, all powered by data.  

We began this series stating data is one of your most unique, differentiated, and competitive assets and it needs to be at the center of your IoT strategy. The closer data is to the people, devices and “things” it serves, the less latency there is, which translates into faster time to insights and value.

1Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) November 2018

2Counterpoint Technology Market Research, “Storage Capacity Requirement for Autonomous Vehicles to Balloon Over 2TB in the Next Decade,” 2019


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