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Edge Computing Technologies Gain Ground, but Hurdles Remain

As public agencies embrace real-time data and push computing out of the office and into the urban landscape, edge computing can handle all that information more quickly. But there’s more work to do.

Fourteen streetlights in Philadelphia could help shine a light on the future of computing for state and local governments. A smart city project in that city’s Midtown Village will put sensors on the lights so that officials can gain real-time data about air quality, weather, transportation and other urban topics of interest. The data will be processed in the cloud — or, more specifically, via edge computing, which is the term for deploying servers close to data sources in order to make communication faster.

City technology professionals will then take the lessons learned from this project to potentially craft better edge computing-backed efforts. And Philadelphia is not alone. As public agencies across the country emerge from the pandemic and take stock of all they learned during that era from remote work, virtual public meetings and increased use of digital tools, edge computing is beginning to look more attractive as a tool, one that can help governments become more efficient and responsive.

But the path to that future does come with uncertainties and potential hurdles — and requires more education on the part of those agencies, at least according to what experts told Government Technology.


Even so, the promise of edge computing in the public sector is significant, said Zheng Song, an assistant professor in computer and information science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“I believe technology-wise, edge computing and AI will be the two main opportunities for reshaping public services and infrastructure,” he said. “The massive amount of sensors deployed in the field can already provide useful insights for public safety, disaster relief, smart transportation, social welfare and other domains related to public services. Edge computing along with AI will process and make sense of the huge amount of data generated by these sensors in a real-time, privacy-preserving fashion, which will unleash the true potential of such data.”

In response to that promise, providers of cloud computing services — including Google and Amazon — are beefing up their edge technology offerings.

As Song pointed out, Amazon Web Services has released multiple edge products, including private edge servers (Snowball), publicly shared edge servers (Outposts), AI on the edge (SageMaker), IoT edges (Greengrass) and edge computing integrated with communication networks (Wavelength).

Edge computing and AI will be the two main opportunities for reshaping public services and infrastructure.
“With the help of these various platforms, there will be more edge computing applications available to the general public,” he said.

There is other data around spending that supports those predictions and illustrates how edge computing business opportunities are growing, which in turn will lead more public-sector IT professionals to consider how to respond to this trend. For instance, the economic research group Report Ocean found that the North America mobile edge computing market will increase by 32.2 percent annually through 2030 as more consumers — and citizens — use interconnected devices and come to rely on faster data processing and more automation.

More specifically, the figures related to the government market also show the potential for edge computing.

Market intelligence firm IDC estimates in its most recent EdgeView study that local and state governments in the Americas will spend $3.8 billion on “edge solutions” in 2022, a figure that will increase to $4.9 billion in 2026. Most of that spending will come from the U.S., according to Jennifer Cooke, IDC’s research director for edge strategies.

Worldwide, that spending stands at $8.2 billion and will increase to $11.6 billion by 2025.

The IDC report also found that 74 percent of survey respondents plan to increase edge computing spending, with the average planned increase at 34 percent — answers that might be “aspirational,” she said, but which still underscore the interest in the technology.

Drivers of that interest include the need to store data for longer periods of time, the increasing amount of data used by public agencies, and new tools that depend on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Cooke shared her findings with Government Technology in June, around the time that an Amtrak train derailed in Missouri, killing four people and injuring about 150. She used that accident to explain — in a general sense — that edge computing, including sensors and other technology, can potentially help make transportation more efficient and safer, largely via the use of real-time data. Gathering data at “the edge” — and doing it with reduced latency — can allow the running of digital models that can identify potential problems in a quicker fashion than is now typical.

That said, smaller steps will likely come before bigger edge computing projects, at least in the near term.

“At the state and local government level, they’re probably going to be looking for low-hanging fruit,” Cooke said. That could include speed cameras and the operation of high-definition cameras with much larger image files and some AI-supported tools.

Governments “might use a co-location facility that is nearby, but that doesn’t mean pushing [the data] to the cloud,” she said. “It might be ramps to the cloud.”

As for the increasing use of AI tools for public services, many general purpose servers will prove unable to handle those workloads, thanks to cooling, power consumption and other factors. That also promises to make edge computing more attractive over time to governments.


While edge computing is gaining ground in government, its use of the technology still trails other sectors, especially manufacturing and even retail, both Cooke and Song said. Smart home building, health care and gaming also are making progress with edge computing — and will make use of the technology even more in the coming years.

“Retail and manufacturing are probably the most advanced because they are seeing the most results from it,” Cooke said.

That’s important for public agencies because they will need to do their homework on successful use cases before deciding what and how to deploy when it comes to edge computing.

“Don’t go it alone,” she said. “Look at other industries. Learn from their mistakes.”

Public agencies also need to look past the ongoing misconceptions as they explore edge computing, says Hemant Desai, CIO for the International City/County Management Association.

For instance, while governments are rightly focused on cybersecurity — a concern that keeps growing in importance — edge computing can offer security advantages, he told Government Technology.

“On the edge, providing local security is much simpler than the complexity with dealing with security over the public Internet,” Desai said.

Another challenge is simple understanding — that is, knowing what edge computing is and what it can offer, and making sure other public officials are educated about the technology.

“IT folks know what it means, but for day-to-day stakeholders — the important places where decisions are made — making it into day-to-day language goes a long way,” he said.

By next year, or by 2024, we won’t be talking about ‘should we be using edge computing?’ but about how can we now leverage that mountain of data that they have collected.
Another important consideration for edge computing is a basic lesson that applies to other forms of technology, at least according to Tulli Manross, national director of public-sector SLED business development at Lumen, which sells cloud and network services.

“There is a real misconception that edge computing is a one-size-fits-all product,” she told Government Technology. “They need to take the time to understand where they are in their journey.”

As Desai and Manross see it, the pandemic really put the spotlight on the possibilities of edge computing, and made more residents expect more of government — they want access from anywhere and from any type of device.

At the same time, governments are starting to see more use cases for edge computing, and not just for public safety and transportation. Deployments have yet to approach any type of critical mass, but progress is happening.

For instance, Desai pointed to the increasing popularity of smart water meters as an almost obvious place for edge computing technology, along with, say, ensuring the safety and repair of gas pipelines. Sensors and related tools can be installed near the source — for example, near a water tower.

Education, too, is starting to show what edge technologies might be able to do, with a recent example also showing the importance of the types of partnerships that seem likely to play a huge role in edge computing deployments.

In June, Kajeet, a Virginia-based provider of hardware and software for enterprise Wi-Fi networks, announced that it was working with Google on a push to help school districts operate their own private networks. The goal is to bring more digital access to students who lack reliable high-quality wireless Internet.

The work involves the Google Distributed Cloud Edge product, which Google says “brings Google Cloud’s infrastructure and services closer to where data is being generated and consumed. Google Distributed Cloud Edge empowers communication service providers to run 5G Core and radio access network (RAN) functions at the edge.”

Kajeet’s vision, according to its own statement, is to combine its public and private wireless networks with Google’s Chromebook and Classroom tools, and otherwise promote “immersive” classroom activities for some of the 30 million Americans whom the White House says lack high-quality broadband access.

“Google Distributed Cloud helps us realize economies of scale in a common environment encompassing private networks at the edge, a private data center and the public cloud,” Derrick Frost, Kajeet’s senior VP of private wireless networks, said in the statement. “It enables us to deliver a consistent set of security, life cycle management, policy and orchestration of resources across all customer locations.”


As that example shows, edge computing cannot be done in anything approaching isolation. The latest IDC report about spending on the technology hammers that point home, saying agencies planning to deploy edge computing resources need to find ways to integrate with existing legacy infrastructure. That work can be as important as pricing when it comes to decisions about deploying the technology, the report said.

“On the flip side, edge management strategies are not tightly integrated with cloud and core, suggesting that organizations may need to revise their management strategies as they seek to leverage core, cloud and edge resources as a cohesive set of flexible resources,” the report continued.

None of this will be easy, especially as many public agencies are still getting used to their new digital tools and their newer cloud services. But by all accounts, edge computing is gaining profile in the world of gov tech, and with all the anticipated spending, ongoing funding, and new partnerships and products, you can bet that edge computing will continue to grow in the public sector.

Some experts are indeed positively enthusiastic about the prospects for edge computing to become a more important part of government.

“By next year, or by 2024, we won’t be talking about ‘Should we be using edge computing?’ but about how can we now leverage that mountain of data that they have collected,” Desai said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.