Jul 01 2020

How Edge Computing Will Enable a Faster, More Resilient Government

Edge computing gives agencies greater agility and also enables cost savings.

For many federal agencies, edge computing can mean the difference between a successful mission and a disaster.

That’s why many of them, from the Defense Department to the Energy Department, are turning to this technology solution. Edge computing brings the power of high-level computing directly to mission-critical users, whether they’re in an office, on a ship or on the battleground. 

With an edge computing setup, robust data analytics and processing no longer needs to route through the cloud or remote data centers.

For example, agencies such as U.S. Northern Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have used edge computing configurations in their temporary medical deployments to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The hospital ship USNS Mercy has agile data centers on board, so it’s always ready in the face of disaster.

“If you’re setting up a field center, you need to have robust computing on the edge,” says Steve Harris, senior vice president and general manager of public sector for Dell Technologies. “FEMA does an incredible job with this. They have to come in and re-establish technology in a locality so they can serve a ravaged community.”

Agencies that experience periodic surges in computing and data processing can also benefit from edge computing. This is how the Department of Health and Human Services addresses increased demand for services during the enrollment period for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

“When you have steady utilization, running apps in the cloud gives you a lower-cost operating profile, so during most of the year, the apps can run on Azure” or other cloud providers, Harris says. “During enrollment periods, everything heats up, so it becomes much more economical to move the workloads to the edge. For the rest of the year, you can move it back, based on seasonality and demand.”

Edge-based technologies such as VMware Cloud Foundation act like a broker, Harris says, “automatically distributing workloads to the cloud or to the edge seamlessly, reducing latency, creating efficiencies and maximizing computing capabilities.”

DISCOVER: Find out how to design the technology that meets your agency's unique needs.

Edge Brings Computing Power All the Way to Users

The Defense Innovation Unit is exploring edge-based solutions to better analyze and transmit data on the battlefield. The military has sensors all over the world, and many are in motion, like those on Humvees and aircraft or integrated into soldiers’ helmets. To provide a clear picture to Army commanders, all that data needs to be processed much more quickly than current command and control stations can handle. Ideally, the goal is to produce vehicle-mounted nodes as well as aerial units.

“Having those computational cycles close to the end users puts us at a tremendous advantage,” Harris says. “Proximity and delivering on multi-domain command and control is quintessential to victory.”

The Pentagon has already started developing moveable technology as a project within the larger Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project, or JEDI. Together with Microsoft, the DOD is developing a robust tactical data center that can function just about anywhere.

“A tactical data center could be a 50-square-foot, rugged, deployable technology solution that can be put on the ground by vehicle or helicopter to support battle operations,” Harris says. “It works effectively with Internet of Things devices as well as cloud-based applications, allowing the DOD to easily run a multi-command and control operation.”

The setup also provides great flexibility. If and when cloud-based data becomes unavailable, computing processes automatically move to edge environments so users can maintain full visibility of their data and continue operations as normal.

READ MORE: Find out how securing the tactical edge can help operators in the field. 

Agility Leads to Cost Savings for Agencies

The versatility of hybrid cloud solutions not only leads to better operational efficiencies, it can lead to significant cost savings. 

“Because both cloud and edge computing use software-defined solutions, there’s a lot of automation, and we can help agencies get to the lowest operating cost possible,” Harris explains. “Most agencies can begin to see savings by building on-premises cloud environments with products like VCF on VxRail because they already have the space, the energy requirements and the climate control systems in place. We can repatriate that data center with new technology that is increasingly robust at a lower cost, so agencies should be able to increase their actual service while decreasing costs.”

Edge computing is becoming such a popular solution that even the traditional cloud service providers are beginning to embrace the multicloud environment.

“Most users and providers agree that the best approach is to ensure any edge computing solution is optimized, modernized and orchestrated to make the most of the agency’s mission,” Harris says.

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