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What is the Edge and How Is It Changing Web Development?

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For years, we’ve grown accustomed to accessing applications and storing data in the cloud with remote servers and data centers hosted by companies like Amazon and Google. But this centralized approach is starting to change. More and more, computing is happening at “the edge,” but what exactly does this mean?

What is the Edge?

“The Edge” in web development refers to a distributed computing paradigm that places hardware for computation and data storage in many locations around the world to improve response times and save bandwidth. This can involve caching content, running applications, and processing various tasks closer to the physical location of the end user (the “edge” of the network), rather than sending these tasks long distances to centralized cloud-based systems.

Many features of your autonomous car or your real-time navigation updates are edge computing. The sensors on a factory floor analyzing performance and adjusting machinery? Also edge computing. This shift toward localization is enabled by the rise of smart devices, high-speed bandwidth, AI capabilities, and more. And it’s having a profound impact on web development.

Benefits of Edge Computing

The main advantage of edge computing is that it can dramatically reduce latency, which is the delay that occurs when data is transmitted from one point to another. By placing servers closer to end users, data doesn’t have to travel as far, so it can reach its destination more quickly. This can significantly improve the performance of web applications, particularly those that require real-time interaction.

Edge computing also helps to reduce bandwidth usage as data doesn’t have to be sent back and forth over long distances. This can be beneficial for applications that need to process large amounts of data, such as online gaming. In terms of web development, edge computing can offer several advantages:

  • Improved Performance: As mentioned earlier, reducing latency can significantly improve the performance of web applications. This can make websites and apps feel more responsive and provide a better user experience.
  • Real-Time Data Processing: Edge computing allows for real-time data processing and analysis. This can be particularly useful for applications that need to respond to data in real time, such as live chat applications or online multiplayer games.
  • Resiliency: Cloud computing already enables developers to quickly and easily scale up their applications but edge computing provides greater resiliency by spreading traffic across a larger number of nodes during high-traffic events or large cyber attacks.
  • Security and Privacy: By processing data at the edge, rather than sending it to centralized servers, you can potentially reduce the risk of data being intercepted or tampered with. Moreover, it can also help in compliance with data privacy regulations that restrict the movement of data across borders.

Edge computing is changing web development by shifting the focus from centralized servers to a more distributed architecture. This is leading to the development of new techniques and technologies for building and deploying web applications. For example, developers may need to design their applications to work with multiple, distributed databases, rather than a single, central one.

Companies like Edgio provide an edge computing platform for services like hosting web applications and delivering content through a content delivery network (CDN) – all with built-in security. This makes it easier for developers to build, secure, deploy, and scale their applications without the need for an entire operations team to provide support.

Necessary Skills for Developing Edge Native Applications

Overall, edge computing represents a significant shift in how web applications are designed and deployed, and it’s likely to continue having major impacts on web development in the coming years. As web development evolves with the advent of edge computing, developers need to acquire new skills and adapt their existing ones. Here are a few areas that developers should focus on to successfully manage the shift toward edge computing:

Security and Privacy

The risks of edge computing vary depending on where the “edge” is defined. When extended to IoT devices, the diverse security capabilities, different protocols, and standards of these devices pose risks such as interoperability issues and vulnerabilities. These can be minimized by updating software and ensuring physical security, though some devices with limited resources may not support advanced security features.

However, when edge computing is extended to network/telco edges, the risks are lower due to stronger physical security and the ability to choose compliant hardware and software solutions. Regular updates and hardware refreshes remain essential to ensure security. Edge-to-cloud transfers are similar to other data transfers if edge devices support standard security protocols and comply with regulations.

Leading edge computing providers certify their infrastructure with standards like PCI DSS Level 1, SOC2, and ISO27001. Regardless of where data is stored, proper authentication, authorization, and strong encryption for both data at rest and in transit are essential to prevent breaches. Access control must be monitored and overprovisioning must be avoided. In essence, treat edge computing platforms like the public cloud, needing specific tools and knowledge, but operating within a shared responsibility framework.

Developers need to understand the security challenges posed by edge computing. To address these challenges, businesses should adopt an integrated security approach that encompasses the device, network, and application layers. This includes using secure hardware components, encrypted communications, trusted execution environments, and regular device management and updates.

While edge computing presents new security challenges, it also offers several advantages. The transient nature of serverless computing makes it difficult for attackers to pinpoint targets. When edge devices are part of a vast global network, they benefit from enhanced security. For instance, a significant DDoS attack that could compromise an on-premises application can be more effectively diverted and neutralized by a large-scale edge provider.

Serverless Architectures, Functions as a Service (FaaS), and Data Processing at the Edge

Serverless computing and FaaS are often used in conjunction with edge computing. With these models, developers write functions or microservices that are run on-demand by the cloud provider, often on edge servers. Developers need to understand how to write and deploy these kinds of applications. With data being processed at the edge, developers should be aware of how to handle data in these environments.

This might involve learning new edge storage tools that are designed for edge computing, such as databases designed to be hosted on an edge computing platform.

SQLite on the edge tools like Turso serve as a lightweight and streamlined relational database designed for edge computing. This minimizes latency and offers real-time data access. Relational Databases on the Edge like PlanetScaleNeonCockroachDB, and EdgeDB aim to bring full-fledged relational database functionality to edge environments. Redis or Object Storage solutions like Upstash are designed to provide highly scalable, resilient, and fast storage systems. Developers must not only stay current with the latest tools and technologies available for edge computing but also become proficient in effectively managing infrastructure.

DevOps, Infrastructure as Code (IaC), and Understanding of Specific Edge Platforms

With the rise of edge computing, managing infrastructure code becomes crucial. Developers should understand how to use IaC tools to define and manage resources. Popular examples include Terraform, Pulumi, and AWS CloudFormation. Finally, developers should familiarize themselves with specific edge computing platforms like Edgio, Fastly, Cloudflare, and CloudFront.

Each platform has its own features, APIs, and development models, so developers will need to understand these specifics. By focusing on these areas, developers can prepare themselves for the continued shift toward edge computing. As always in the tech industry, continuous learning and adaptation are key.

Conclusion: The Rise of Edge Computing in Web Development

As the digital landscape evolves, edge computing emerges as a groundbreaking shift in how web applications are developed, deployed, and scaled. By decentralizing processes and placing computing closer to users, edge computing is revolutionizing web development, offering reduced latency, heightened performance, and a more tailored user experience.

However, with its myriad of advantages also come new challenges, particularly in areas like security, interoperability, and compliance. As we look to the future, it becomes increasingly evident that today’s web developers must equip themselves with the skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of edge computing. Embracing the edge paradigm will be pivotal for developers aiming to stay relevant and competitive in this dynamic era of web technology.

Edgio is an industry-leading edge platform, offering integrated solutions for performance, security, and scalability – all while managing the underlying infrastructure for you.

Learn more by talking to an edge expert today.