This is part one of a two-part blog post. Please also read part two.
In recent weeks, I’ve written a lot on this blog about the uncertainty and vulnerability of the public internet for business-critical communications. The frequency of global ransomware and DDoS attacks has only served to underline the concerns.
At the same time, barely a week seems to go by without another prediction about the growth of the IoT, digital transformation or the future of the cloud. I decided it was time to sit down with Chris Rivera, our CTO, to get a handle on some of the developments that are gaining traction in the digital transformation and what they will mean in actual practical application.
Mary Clark: So, Chris, it seems that every tech news site has no shortage of coverage on a range of recurring topics like digital transformation, the industrial IoT, the cloud, edge computing, machine learning, global cyberattacks, or some combination of these topics. Each and every one of these words and concepts has an impact to existing and emerging businesses. Help me understand what’s going on?
Chris Rivera: It’s true that there is no shortage of change, and while there are some certainties at play, there are also many variables that will affect where different companies, applications and services finally land. One certainty is that every business that wants to survive and thrive will have to undergo a digital transformation, and that transformation will present known and unknown challenges that they will need to overcome.
“Digital transformation will happen. Businesses and organizations need global, secure, reliable networks that are always on and always available, and that . . . do not rely on the public internet.”
Mary: Look, Chris, I have heard the term digital transformation for a couple of years now, but with the amount of security threat constantly present and the ever-widening surface of attack that we’ve spoken of on previous blog posts, what kind of challenges do you specifically see?
Chris: Companies that want to quickly add new services, bring on new partners, and open up new markets while managing costs are doing so digitally. They need systems to which their partners can securely connect; they need to embrace digital payments; and their customers want products that can be configured at the point of sale or updated over the air.
Regardless of industry, country or marketplace, digital transformation will mean that companies’ front and back offices will be digitally managed. The challenge for these businesses and organizations is to prepare themselves by asking this:
- Do we have the systems in place to handle that transformation?
- Do we know, at this stage, what those systems need to deliver for our business?
- And do we know whether they are cloud-based, edge-based or some combination?
Mary: The debate over a cloud-based versus edge-based approach is growing. I keep hearing about it more. What does this mean for different applications and services, and what do you mean by “some combination”?
Chris: Cloud storage and processing mean that companies don’t need to clog their own networks with vast amounts of data, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
However, for applications that need very low latency and rapid response times, edge computing or edge networking can move the data processing and experience closer to the user or application. Every business has different requirements, the first step in choosing the best approach is to really understand those requirements.
For example, in an IoT environment requiring instant communications between a device and an application, certain computing processes can be undertaken at an edge-device level without reference to the cloud database to maximize speed.
The combined approach comes into play when the results of those processes from potentially millions of devices in the IoT network are fed back to the cloud, allowing big-data analytics to identify process improvements to be relayed back to the edge device. That’s a network that is acting quickly but is also continually learning.
Mary: I’ve also heard about “fog computing.” What is it and how does it differ?
Chris: While edge networking moves some of the processing power closer to the user or the application, fog computing moves other cloud capabilities closer to the edge as well.
You could think of it as a network of mini-clouds, located closer to the application to reduce latency and speed response times, but also undertaking some of the storage functions and – in the IoT scenario explained above – serving many edge devices. While edge networking is device-based, each fog deployment serves many devices, and the host cloud has many fogs.
Mary: This host of different types of deployment clearly brings with it different advantages and applications. But, clearly, it brings about additional security challenges, which are exacerbated when you consider external partners.
Chris: It does, and there’s no doubt that governments, businesses and other organizations will need help to design, build and commission the best network approach for their requirements.
There is no such thing as one size fits all in this marketplace – although, as I said when we started this conversation, there are some certainties.
Digital transformation will happen. Businesses and organizations need global, secure, reliable networks that are always on and always available, and that – as you have written before – do not rely on the public internet. Once those needs are met, it will come down to having flexible deployment and configuration options that are designed to meet exact business needs. That’s how you deliver the transformation.
Please also check out part two of this post.
Mary Clark is a former Chief Corporate Relations Officer and Chief of Staff at Syniverse.