Edge Computing:
Cutting Edge for Commercial Real Estate


Shannon Hill

Everybody loves a good shortcut; edge computing is going to shorten data’s journey from A to C, bypassing B.

The demand for bandwidth and connectivity is growing every day, and existing data networks are becoming increasingly stressed and overworked. Edge computing technology is going to lighten the network load and also pave a new way for data to be delivered and analyzed.

What edge computing does: it gathers up data produced by smart devices (called the Internet of things — here’s the hip way to write it: IoT). It then processes that data closer to home, rather than sending it far away for processing. The edge computing conduit could be almost anything: a laptop, a cell phone, an app, a cell tower, even a car. The data gets processed in a “micro data center,” right on the property.

Here’s a back-in-the-day way to explain something this cutting edge: it’s like using a Polaroid camera instead of sending your film to be processed at the Fotomat. Faster results. Same good quality. Maybe even a little better.

That means closer, more instant and localized data, instead of taking the long route (data centers or clouds). You’ll also be able to store content and be able to process applications locally.

How it works: micro data centers process and/or store your data, in a footprint of less than 100 square feet, according to research firm IDC. Tenants are able to rent space in these centers from property owners, which also would include an entrance to the larger cloud computing space. Data’s trip from edge computing to the cloud is called “fog computing.”

That’s why it’s called “edge:” the data is processed closer to the edge of the network — rather than in the cloud or at a faraway data center — so the information is received faster, in real time. Think of how this benefits business, particularly sectors like healthcare, which deal in life-and-death situations (finance too). Consider also how this is going to revolutionize commercial real estate: edge computing is ideal for devices and properties with poor connectivity; it avoids the extra step of being connected to a central cloud.

The technology is being deployed in cellular systems and WiFi networks that host local content. The goal is improved performance, and an enhanced experience for tenants and customers. Of course, it’s also a great marketing tool, showing the world that your property is already working in the future.

Edge Computing is quickly becoming integrated with the idea of future cities, and the commercial real estate industry — like with many other aspects of technology — needs to catch up. According to research by Deloitte, 90% of all commercial real estate data was still unstructured as of 2016. As of 2015, smart homes and smart commercial buildings represented 45% of total connected things, but Gartner predicts that this will rise to 81% by 2020.

Seen through different numbers, 1.1 billion connected things were predicted to be used by smart cities in 2015, rising to 9.7 billion by 2020.  Edge computing will help greatly reduce the bandwidth required to operate smart building deployments.

This is a far cry from tradition, in which commercial property owners rely on third-party providers to install and operate data networks in their buildings.

“Edge Computing represents an important new opportunity for building and property managers,” said Mike Bonewitz, Chief Technology Officer of both CrossLayer and FTE Networks. “When combining an Edge Computing-based in-building network with data analytics, content and information, the entire value chain can be leveraged by a building owner to improve the connectivity experience, build a sustainable positioning advantage for the property, and increase tenant and visitor satisfaction.”

An iGillott Research white paper suggests that edge computing offers lucrative marketing opportunities for building owners and property managers. Among incentives that could be offered: private wired and wireless network services to each tenant in the building, providing a high degree of security, dependability and support.

Of course, it’s not exactly as easy as it sounds. In order for edge computing to be successful in a property, it must be cost effective in terms of deployment and operation, using off-the-shelf computer hardware. It must be understood and operated by regular IT staff, who have basic networking knowledge but not necessarily special edge computing skill sets. It also must be highly reliable, requiring low maintenance and little power. Content must still be stored in the cloud, as needed.

Most importantly, edge computing is often stored in a low-security environment, and must be protected against weather, vandalism and other hazards. Other security considerations include data encryption and access control.

In the recent issue of KBS’ Premier magazine, real estate entrepreneur, Air Force vet and former Dallas Cowboy  Chad Hennings commented on the value of edge computing. “One of the things I always look at are amenities,” he said.  “The millennials have pushed space design in a more open and collaborative office. But I think one of the biggest things that I see on the horizon for building owners to stay competitive is going to be the data component. Having some sort of edge computing micro data center onsite is important.”

 

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Shannon Hill is a Senior Vice President for KBS, overseeing over 2.2 million square feet in the northeast U.S.