When it’s time to edge away from the cloud

One of IT’s big trends of recent years has been the move to ‘the cloud’, accessing data remotely through the internet rather than storing it on a device. There is nothing particularly cloud-like about the racks of data centre electronics that provide such centralised storage, but as a concept cloud computing has swept all before it. This looks like it might be changing.

Based on Freedom of Information and open data, I recently looked at spending on cloud computing services by the UK public sector for The Register. This showed rapid growth – then flat-lining from late 2016.

Some new technology trends are pushing data-processing from the cloudy centre to the network ‘edge’, in other words individual devices. For example, autonomous vehicles will not be safe if they have to wait for a remote data centre to take decisions, even if this only takes a fraction of a second, and certainly not when the linking networks fail.

In some respects this is just another wave in the great computing oscillation. The early decades of computing were centralised; personal computers pushed the processing power to the edges; cloud computing centralised things again. The reality is that it will always make more sense to do some things through centralised data centres and some others through individual devices.

Trends like ‘cloud’ and ‘edge’ do give the likes of me things to write about. But it’s worth remembering that apparently new things, such as wireless or sending signals under the ocean, usually aren’t.

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