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Unbundling the cloud with the intelligent edge

Deloitte on Cloud Blog

How edge computing, AI, and advanced connectivity are enabling enterprises to more quickly act on data and become more responsive to a fast-moving world.

October 22, 2020

A blog post by Chris Arkenberg, research manager for the Deloitte Center for Technology, Media, and Telecommunications, and Jeff Loucks, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Technology, Media, & Telecommunications.


The promise of the fourth industrial revolution offers a compelling vision of connected manufacturing systems that can sense, analyze, and respond to physical conditions. Animated by advancing digital technologies, similar visions have conjured the future of intelligent buildings, hospital systems, farms, and cities.

All the pieces needed to realize these visions appear to be falling into place. Computation is cheap, powerful, and small. Sensors are ubiquitous. Networks are becoming faster and more specialized. Artificial intelligence has moved beyond hype into broad application, powered by specialized semiconductors.

As these components mature and converge, another big shift in technology is underway. The intelligent edge combines computing power, AI technology, data analytics, and advanced connectivity to quickly act on data much closer to where it is captured. Cloud capabilities (led by hyperscale cloud companies, IT companies, and telecoms) are expanding from data centers out to the edge of networks, where more use cases benefit from rapid and intelligent responses to incoming data.

And the edge is becoming central, as businesses across all industries face ever greater amounts of data, more complex operations, and more dynamic markets. Whether from customers, products, or embedded sensors, real-time data places more demands on businesses to be sensing and responsive. The ability to leverage data quickly and effectively can drive operational efficiencies and competitive advantages. Hyperscalers, IT companies, and connectivity providers are moving to meet business needs with edge computing and intelligence.

Timeliness, connectivity, security

Businesses can enable greater efficiencies and valuable new use cases by leveraging the key capabilities of the intelligent edge:1

  • More efficient use of bandwidth and greater network visibility
  • Resiliency against poor, unreliable, and lost connectivity
  • Support for low-latency use cases and fast response times
  • Greater automation and autonomy
  • More control over data triage, normalization, residency, and privacy

Critically, the intelligent edge is not a replacement for enterprise and hyperscale cloud data centers, but a way to distribute tasks across the network based on timeliness, connectivity, and security.

What is the intelligent edge?

Like many tech buzzwords (especially those that touch so many different aspects of tech infrastructure) the term edge computing has become somewhat vague and can have different meanings for different providers.

Hyperscale service providers, connectivity service providers, and IT companies are each trying to deliver their definition of edge computing. What’s important is that, for many businesses looking to attain its capabilities, edge computing likely requires a bespoke set of solutions customized for their operations and goals. The precise location and topology can be architected differently for diverse solutions.

Key questions

Leaders looking to operationalize the intelligent edge should start by carefully evaluating their business needs, their infrastructure, and their ecosystem. The following questions can support their planning:

  • How can the intelligent edge help your business? What aspects of your business would benefit from lower latency, lower network transit, and greater bandwidth availability? How might such capabilities support your strategic road map?
  • Which partners can most effectively support an intelligent edge implementation? What would it cost, and how could those costs be returned by careful implementations? Are there KPIs and milestones to measure success?
  • Which kinds of data do you want to address with edge capabilities? How can that data be managed and structured to enable edge capabilities while maximizing data center interoperability? Do you have the right AI and machine learning capabilities to support edge intelligence?
  • Is your network capable enough to meet the needs of an intelligent edge deployment? Should you accelerate adoption of 5G or Wi-Fi 6?
  • How can the costs of transitioning be managed and reduced through smart decisions, partnerships, and process optimization?

The next big shift

Like cloud and 4G LTE, edge computing and intelligence will likely constitute a large evolution of infrastructure that will take time to enable the next phase of innovation and competitive advantage. Early adopters and industry stalwarts are already capitalizing on the intelligent edge. Telecoms, hyperscalers, IT companies, and CDN providers are all ramping up their efforts to sell edge capabilities and are moving them into the center of their own strategic road maps. As more industry leaders adopt and deploy the intelligent edge, more use cases and innovations will no doubt emerge.

The march of industrial progress has followed the amplification of human capabilities, then automation of rote tasks, and now it is beginning to deliver solutions that offer greater digital intelligence and physical awareness. Each step has overcome limitations and enabled more flexibility. In an increasingly interconnected, complex, and unpredictable world, the intelligent edge may be a key enabler for a new generation of responsive and adaptive organizations. How this evolution reshapes networks, services, machines, and the built environment will likely play out over the next decade.

Learn more about the intelligent edge

To learn more about the intelligent edge, read the full article “Unbundling the cloud with the intelligent edge” on Deloitte Insights and watch our Dbriefs webinar, “The transformational impact of the intelligent edge.”

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional adviser.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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1 Ken Carroll and Mahesh Chandramouli, “Scaling IoT to meet enterprise needs,” Deloitte Insights, June 20, 2019.

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