Can Cloud & Edge Computing add value to Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?
The recent pandemic (COVID19) forced many companies to adapt to remote working and to use cloud-based applications, such as Microsoft Teams, for their day-to-day operations . Advancement in digitalisation has led to a shift in the use of cloud computing (CC) services all around the world across different industries, such as healthcare, education, and manufacturing. In recent years, cloud computing architecture has been extended to what is known as Edge Computing (EC), which enables data processing at the edge of the network where the data is being generated . Moving cloud-based services closer to the data source (as offered by EC) improves latency, bandwidth usage, computation and communication costs, network availability, as well as data security and privacy.
Today almost everyone (including organisations of any size and individuals) uses at least one aspect of cloud and edge computing. For example, health care organisations are using cloud computing to deliver remote consultation and making health records available to individuals via the NHS app. The NHS Test and Trace cloud solution delivery was accelerated using Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS. The Education Sector is making use of cloud-based platforms, such as Office 365, Google Docs, One Drive, Google Drive, and Citrix workspace to deliver courses and enable students to continue studying in a hybrid fashion. The internet of things (IoT) continues to grow across industries; consumer, industrial and enterprise IoT devices are making use of edge networks to process data more efficiently and provide enhanced data security and privacy. Some use cases of edge computing include remote monitoring of assets in the oil and gas industry, traffic management in intelligent transportation systems, smart homes, and smart hospitals.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can benefit from the scalable infrastructure and capabilities that are available as services within the cloud and the edge. In this blog post, we cover the advantages and disadvantages of both cloud and edge computing to help SMEs add value to their businesses and gain a competitive advantage in the digital world.
Cloud Opportunities and Challenges
Adopting cloud computing provides several opportunities for SMEs including:
- No upfront investment is required and there is no need to rely on ageing hardware
- Unlimited data storage could be provided according to the clients’ request
- Services will be available at anytime from anywhere (with Internet access)
- File sharing and collaboration with business partners and clients will be made easier
- Businesses will only pay for the space and capacity that has been used
- There is no need for manual software and hardware updates and maintenance
- Businesses could rely on the service providers for system failures and cyber attacks
Despite all the above-mentioned opportunities, cloud services are provided through an Internet connection, which could be an issue if a stable connection is not always available. Moreover, cloud usage imposes increase communication overhead (i.e., bandwidth usage) and latency, which is not favourable for non-delay-tolerant applications (such as streaming).
Data security and privacy are increasingly challenging in today’s cloud environments as these environments are not immune to cyber-attacks. Moreover, since the cloud service provider owns, manages, and monitors the cloud infrastructure, limited access control is given to the end-users (SMEs in our case). If appropriate measures are not implemented by the service provider, the confidentiality, integrity and/or availability of the data throughout the data lifecycle could be endangered.
According to the UK GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), client data privacy needs to be protected by the business, which means, users data need to be kept private, and users should be able to explicitly grant/deny access to their personal data. This could become challenging when the users data is stored in the cloud. Data loss and data leakage could happen if appropriate measures (such as encryption) are not in place. Common security threats, such as account and service hijacking, as well as underlying technology vulnerabilities in the shared environments, could lead to unauthorised access to a huge number of clients data.
Edge Opportunities and Challenges
Adopting edge computing could resolve most of the challenges that are introduced by the cloud. As the edge devices are placed closer to the end-user (i.e., edge of the network), the latency and bandwidth usage will be decreased significantly. Moreover, data security and privacy could be improved since the edge devices are within the premises of the businesses and are controlled locally. Edge computing can help SMEs remain compliant with privacy regulations; some examples include:
- Healthcare providers: patient data remains local to the source, which limits the risk of privacy breaches through the restriction of personally identifiable information movement and storage.
- Smart home accessory providers: users can control their personal data and choose to upload it to the cloud or store and process it locally, which again enhances data privacy as well as security.
Despite favourable features, edge computing has its challenges. In large scale scenarios, resource management in edge computing could be an issue, as, unlike cloud, edge devices are not resourceful. So, it is important to adopt appropriate resource provisioning and application prioritisation mechanisms. Moreover, data processing under edge computing might include structuring data and eliminating redundancies and unnecessary information. However, this could result in the loss of valuable information if extra care is not given to the adopted data processing techniques.
Although edge computing addresses some of the security and privacy challenges of the cloud, as the devices are managed locally, protecting the devices against security attacks becomes challenging. This is more problematic when the number of devices that are storing and processing data increases, which requires a huge amount of investment in terms of time and resources to maintain (and update) the existing software and hardware to ensure they are fully secured. In those scenarios, some businesses prefer to rely on centralised third parties (or cloud-based systems) to take care of their data.
Both cloud and edge offer valuable opportunities while introducing various challenges. SMEs could choose a combination of cloud and edge, while performing an in-depth risk assessment, identifying their needs and their capabilities.
The shared responsibility model is an important element to be considered by SMEs in cloud computing as it does establish a clear structure of responsibilities between the cloud service provider and the customer. The system organization controls (SOC2) report is a good reference guide for SMEs that are considering migrating to the cloud as well as those who have already migrated to the cloud. This report provides a good level of understanding of the current security and compliance state of the environment in which businesses’ data and applications reside. A SOC2 is a form of assurance, and it is an independent assessment designed to provide cloud customers with some assurance about their data.
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 Mahmoudi, C. , Battou, A. and Mourlin, F. (2018), Formal Definition of Edge Computing: An Emphasis on Mobile Cloud and IoT Composition, The Third IEEE International Conference on Fog and Mobile Edge Computing, Barcelona, -1, [online], https://doi.org/10.1109/FMEC.2018.8364042 (Accessed May 24, 2022)