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On the edge of an analogy

For the ancient Greeks, the brain was a hydraulics system for the humors. Enlightenment thinkers turned to the mechanical clock and 20th century scientists were in favor of electric wires or phone lines. In this post, I’m taking a look at today’s favored analogy of the computer as a brain and how it applies to the cloud and the edge working in concert.

There’s a debate running at the farthest edge of computer science whether human-computer analogies are a help or a hindrance. Those in favor point out that using them has resulted in some pretty cool advances. The antagonists, on the other hand, feel that the metaphor has perhaps taken us as far as it can and we need to start looking in new places for new advances.

I’m with the realists on this one: for the current world, the metaphor is still working. The cloud and the edge are essential enablers for successful digital transformation and they can be productively likened to the brain and the nervous system, respectively.

The cloud is now the brains of your outfit

With enormous compute capacity and massive amounts of untapped potential, it’s not too-wild-a postulation to compare it to the brain. It’s the cloud that is underpinning successful digital business and digital transformation and it is an essential, central component if you want to build effective artificial intelligence into products and services in order to realize amazing customer experiences. When Fujitsu asked business leaders worldwide, 68 percent told us that they believe AI and people will work collaboratively in the future. That massive computing power in the cloud enables this crucial combination of people and technology and drives ever-improving algorithms for increasingly accurate and immediate decision making.

If the cloud-brain metaphor is clear enough, what about the edge? Information from the cloud must travel to and from the edge to satisfy the profound real-time need in business for immediate services, just as the nervous system carries signals from the brain around the body to ensure healthy, holistic and integrated functioning of the organism.

Carrying and protecting information

Sitting at the edge of most networks there is a multiplicity of devices, from mobile phones and laptops, to sensors and autonomous vehicles. Low latency is vital here. If you’re calculating a route for navigation, for example, data from the edge must flow to the cloud to be crunched before the optimal route can be sent back.

Sometimes – your route to the retail park is a good example – latency in milliseconds is perfectly acceptable. But there are times when action is so vital that the edge simply can’t wait for the brain to respond in its conventional way. What’s needed is not direct input from the brain, but a local decision based on an algorithm crafted in the cloud.

If you’re struggling to imagine how the milliseconds needed for a return loop from the edge to the cloud and back could really make a significant difference, think about an autonomous vehicle traveling at 100 feet per second. Milliseconds of delay in decision making could spell the difference between life and death. In retail, 100 milliseconds of delay in a transaction could lead to an overall loss of around one-percent in sales revenue. In banking, one-second of delay in trading could be measured in millions or even tens of millions of dollars of lost revenue. That’s why Fujitsu advocates locating the immediacy of the algorithm at the edge when the business case demands it, by placing a computing device as close as possible to where the physical and digital world meet.

Fighting intruders

The body has its own mechanisms for fighting off intruders – white blood cells, for example – and naturally devices on the edge must also be secured from outside interference. A real focus on understanding the expanded threat footprint that comes with digital transformation is required, data centric security, API’s, endpoints and cyber threat intelligence are essential.  Skimping on such defences and allowing malicious access between the brain and the nervous system could be catastrophic.

A security incident on your network could spread and give attackers access to the enterprise. While a minor infection can usually be contained and seen off with some basic medication and bedrest, if it reaches the brain it may become life threatening. It’s the same with malware on a laptop or server, which may prove difficult to remove, but a major data breach to your cloud could lead to regulatory fines and reputational damage, posing a serious threat to the survival of your business.

It’s important to ensure that you’re not just protecting the brain, but the whole body. Secure your cloud, but extend security protocols to the entire ecosystem, including laptops, smartphones, sensors, factory robots, vehicles, and other operational endpoints.

Business is data

In many respects, business has become data. Certainly, that’s where the stock market tells us the biggest returns now are, with data-rich organizations such as Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon in commanding positions.

There is an obvious and useful analogy between data and blood in the body, with the heart pumping data securely around your network, ensuring the brain has enough oxygen to thrive, and securely carrying data out to the extremities of your organization. That connectivity between the cloud and the edge is set to drive countless new developments, particularly with the promise of reduced latency times and great efficiency offered by 5G, which will make it possible to leverage data and intelligence as never before.

That intelligence has to connect with people at an emotional level too. The most successful customer experiences come from an effective combination of people and technology. It’s crucial to apply emotional intelligence, to augment intelligence from the cloud and truly empower workers with tools that bring benefits all round.

Real, effective change means supporting your people, providing customers and employees with new ways of working and products that make their lives easier. This requires effective and continuous communication and proper training to ensure that people have the necessary skills to fully exploit multi-cloud technologies and AI.

The mind-body dualism

The ancient Greeks understood that the connection between the mind and the body was the key factor in human success. The word “gymnasium” (γυμνάσιον – gymnasion) in ancient Greek meant a place where both sides of the human being were developed and we can still see the residue of that thinking in English, where it refers to a place to train the body and in many other European languages, including Greek, German, Russian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Dutch and Polish, where it is a school for training the mind.

Mind and body is a false dualism. When your brain, body, and heart are in sync, you are capable of your best performance. The same applies to an effective digital transformation, which must enable your business to harness the power of data, intelligence from the cloud, and secure connectivity to drive new innovations, better services, and greater efficiency.

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