Closing the digital divide: the role of edge computing

A road winding between two mountains.
Simon Michie is the CTO at Pulsant.

Edge computing is set to make waves in commerce, healthcare and the government. It will play a significant role in the growth of the internet of things (IoT) and push the potential of 5G as its rollout continues, bringing new automated capabilities and efficiency to industry and agriculture.

It will also have a role to play in remote diagnostics, medicines and treatments, interactive gaming and the rise of autonomous vehicles. With 5G and cloud-based compute power, the use cases are potentially limitless and is all made possible through faster data analysis, locating processing and storage closer to its collection location rather than sending it to a centralised point.

For businesses based in the Midlands and the North, the emergence of the edge as a viable, fully-functioning infrastructure is a highly significant development, offering critical new capabilities.

The differences between North and South

Until now, businesses in London and the South East have enjoyed significant advantages in terms of connectivity due to their proximity to the vast storage and computing power of the major vendors’ cloud hubs in the capital.

Almost the entire South has access to higher speed, capacity and more interconnections, with a greater choice of cloud providers delivering fast, low latency access. This has put the North and Midlands at a disadvantage. A Pulsant survey of business leaders and IT decision-makers discovered that 53% in the North and 64% in the Midlands believe the location of their organisation is a barrier to accessing reliable IT infrastructure.

Talent is also easier to access for businesses in the South, with almost seven-in-ten businesses in the North stating that location is a barrier to accessing talent, compared to just over half (51%) in the South.

Organisations in the south-eastern corner of the country certainly have easier access to IT and data science talent, along with specialist services. Low latency and ready access to data and cloud expertise are

definite pluses for ambitious organisations that want to become truly data-driven and move their applications into the cloud or shift to software-as-a-service (SaaS) models.

Getting ready for the edge

Nonetheless, there is plenty of ambition outside the South when it comes to accelerating transformation. Pulsant’s research discovered that 67% of medium-sized businesses in the North and 58% in the Midlands are deploying new SaaS applications. Nearly two-thirds of businesses in the North are also migrating traditional workloads and data into the cloud (65%) and are creating their own cloud-native applications (65%). Additionally, more than two-thirds of businesses in the North and the Midlands are currently investing in improved digital customer experiences.

While this is highly encouraging, organisations in the North and Midlands that want to fulfil these digital ambitions need actively to ensure they benefit from true edge computing. They must gain access to the high-speed, resilient and secure access that underpins effective edge deployment. This is only available from a national network of regional data centres, connected by high-performance fibre. This bridges the latency gap between local businesses and the major cloud vendors’ centralised platforms, using a strategically-sited high-speed network of specialist data centres.

Hybrid and colocation providers are now making significant investments in national edge computing infrastructure, bringing low-latency connectivity to the end-users and devices of businesses all over the country, regardless of their location.

It means that businesses with a headquarters, office or warehouse in almost any area of the Midlands or North will be able to access advanced computing and applications. The ability to offer new customer experiences, deploy high-bandwidth AI applications and embedded automation awaits those who tap into the opportunity.

Selecting the right edge provider

There’s little doubt that edge computing will dissolve many of the factors causing the North-South digital divide, laying a new pathway to new services and business models for far more organisations in a vastly wider area.

Numerous service and telecom providers, many of which are based in the Midlands and North, have previously lacked the tools, such as an effective low-latency network, to innovate, create new offerings

and reach new clients. The right edge platform enables them to be at the heart of the UK’s edge computing ecosystem and ready to drive the next generation of innovative applications. This in turn enables them to better attract talented employees to the business.

Genuinely high-speed, resilient and decentralised cloud connectivity is at the core of the edge opportunity. There are many configurations of edge computing, but the main consideration for any business must be that their provider has a purpose-built edge platform. Proximity to a data centre does not automatically mean that it is a component of a resilient national edge network. A resilient network allows the ability to re-route traffic and provide seamless, low latency connectivity even in the case of an interruption or outage.

Organisations outside the lucky South need to be wise in the configuration and providers they choose when seeking to create new services, improve performance or build new markets through the advances of edge computing. The alternative could otherwise be a continuation of a digital divide between North and South. Once businesses in the North and Midlands can leverage the true edge, operations will transform and provide new economic opportunities for each region. Rather than an emerging divide, the edge will close it and ensure that businesses in the North and Midlands fully grasp the opportunity.

Looking to revamp your digital transformation strategy? Learn more about the in-person Digital Transformation Week North America taking place in Santa Clara, CA on 11-12 May and discover key strategies for making your digital efforts a success.

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