Gain an edge or get edged out

Published May 25, 2022

Edge computing is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing technology trends as businesses worldwide wake up to the reality that some workloads should be run closer to their data source. Leading technology analyst Gartner predicts that by 2025, three-quarters of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed at the edge – or outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. Similarly, IDC predicts that by 2023, half of new enterprise IT infrastructure deployed will be at the edge rather than corporate data centers.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

It’s no secret that technology dominates our lives today and is moving at a frighteningly rapid pace. If you’re like us, it doesn’t seem that long ago that the term “cloud” entered our vernacular, yet it became mainstream back in the mid-2000s. How long did it take your company to get on board then? If the answer looking back is too long, all the more reason to look ahead: the time has come to talk EDGE.

If you’re not familiar, take a look at Tesla’s journey towards self-driving vehicles. The amount of data generated by such vehicles is immense, and often needs immediate analysis and reaction. For  example, a self-driving vehicle senses a parked car ahead and must immediately apply brakes. How reassured would you be if all vehicle-generated data had to be backhauled all the way to a data center for processing, with the right instructions then sent back to the driving systems for action, adding precious time to the vehicle’s reaction speed? We imagine “not very reassured” came to mind.

In many instances today, you need technology to act immediately, locally and reliably. This requires placing computing resources closer to the user or the device, at the “edge” of the network, rather than in a cloud data center far away from the “core” of the network. In retail, strategies are defined by large numbers of remote stores with modest network capabilities and the need for a relatively small number of local business critical applications. Dependency on cloud availability and in-built latency are simply risks too big for retailers to bet on.

That’s why it’s time to take things to the edge.

Why edge for retail?

Retailers have edge IT to support a variety of technology, both on the retail floor and in the back-office, that are all critical functions to a thriving modern experience. From point-of-sale (POS) to security cameras, inventory management to digital signage, RFID sensors to scan-and-go – all these solutions require local computing capabilities that only edge can provide.

Retailers are (or should be) looking for a store architecture that enables them to modernize their application management lifecycle and run the store better. Having the ability to make changes rapidly, whether by introducing new applications within the store to improve the customer experience or finding a way to minimize disruption to the business from planned downtime, can make a real difference to the bottom line.

This new retail edge approach enables distributed store networks to be managed as an integrated whole — one where all required applications can be deployed, upgraded, secured and supported as one entity from a central point. At the heart of such an approach must be intelligent automation technology to enable control and updating across the entire retail network, simplifying previously complex IT tasks and ensuring a consistent and secure IT environment.

As the benefits of edge have become clearer, nearly 90% of retailers have already deployed or have indicated interest in deploying at least one edge workload, and 42% of retailers have or are planning in-store edge deployments over the next two years. Are you on the same trajectory?

Related: Virtualization at the retail edge

Rough around the edges

Edge solutions are anything but one-size-fits-all and aren’t created equal. While the common practice is to distribute infrastructure to remove latency for real-time applications and issues caused by network unreliability, you need to think very carefully when choosing a vendor as there is a big difference between a purpose-built retail edge infrastructure and those that attempt to force fit a data center approach at the retail edge.

How you wish to deploy edge IT is also key – a fully managed service or a DIY approach. The DIY approach can require in-house expertise, not just in the configuration and installation but also in the day-to-day monitoring and maintenance of your store applications and devices. It’s no surprise why managed services are proving to be an increasingly popular option. Just as cloud catalyzed a range of as-a-service infrastructure and application ecosystems, edge will drive the same evolution.

What does the future hold?

In the world of technology, the direction you want to look is ahead. Edge for retail technology will provide virtualization, containerization, and automation by integrating in-store touch points, such as front-of-store devices, back-office devices, and associated peripherals, all under an intelligent retail store architecture managed from the cloud.

You will still have computers and servers in the store, but the big change is software. This approach, now distributed and agile, gives you the ability to run small, containerized workloads at the edge, unconstrained with cloud native methods.

The future is more than store infrastructure. It’s about being able to deliver and manage applications with more flexibility and at lower cost. Whether that is keeping your existing applications current, testing and deploying new applications in store or even integrating your existing technology stack into new stores – speed, time and cost are key to success.

Don’t be the brand that gets edged out in 2022. Embrace edge now to ensure your data is equipped to drive your store experience forward.

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