The built environment is becoming hyper-distributed, with the edge playing a significant shift in the way we are connecting, acquiring information, interacting with it, and making decisions. The past several years have demonstrated that device and system connectivity in buildings is continuing on an upward trajectory and is delivering undeniable value to owners, operators, and occupants alike. The edge is enabling us to expand our reach to a new range of systems, equipment, devices, and applications, providing relevant outcomes for operating and managing buildings.

We are seeing an increase in an edge-in approach. Here, equipment, systems, devices, and applications are built specifically for the edge. This means they are edge-native and can fully take advantage of distributed computing. With this approach, you can still bring data into the cloud as needed, but the edge is the primary connectivity and computational resource delivering a full range of benefits.

So, what is the edge? Simply put, it’s a means to connect, collect, and process data at the device level rather than in the cloud, at an enterprise, or a remote data center. It represents device-level execution of application components traditionally associated with enterprise applications, at a place where we can process and analyze data as close to the original sources as possible.

By 2025, Gartner reports more than 75% of all data will be processed and acted upon on the edge. That is a shift in the way businesses must think about their data, including the data generated from building operational technology. This is due in part to the greater acceptance of IoT and the availability of more computer processing power at lower costs, allowing us to move from just connected devices to connected intelligence.

When it comes to devices and equipment that can reside on the edge, there are several. Equipment, such as RTUs, chillers, plant level controllers, meters, submeters, sensors and human-machine interfaces (HMIs), security cameras, gateways, routers, wireless access points, field devices, and lighting are all good examples.

Factors contributing to the edge movement:

  • The breadth of connectivity options that are now available;
  • Data volume;
  • The advent of new software and applications (as devices become more intelligent, software and apps are playing a bigger role);
  • Real-time data requirements;
  • Power and “smartness” of hardware (more powerful, more capacity, higher levels of data processing, increased storage capabilities);
  • Affordability;
  • Open systems, open source, open programming, and open hardware technologies;
  • Adoption of the network edge with IoT;
  • Flattening of the traditional architecture driven by IP;
  • Bandwidth challenges;
  • Need for reduced data overload; and
  • Amount of data that needs to be exchanged with the cloud (putting data into the cloud is costly and time-consuming).

As far as the benefits and value within the built environment, the edge delivers speed, latency reduction, scalability, security, bandwidth conservation, reduced operational costs, and more data that has the potential to provide enhanced insights and data governance. The edge also enables owners and operators to be more aware and reactive in real time to what is happening within their facilities. That, in turn, enables one to unlock new operational efficiencies and become more effective with the resources at their disposal.

The edge plays a valuable role in providing efficiency, security, and compliance. It is changing our building environment landscape to support an IP, horizontal architecture. Furthermore, by applying analytics at the edge, we can make more informed decisions and initiate action. This leads to a variety of advantages, including proactive intervention, intelligent automation, and highly personalized experiences. It also enables building systems easier to use, extending the lifetime value of the equipment and delivering more personalized environments for occupants.

The edge is becoming an integral part of many organizations building operational strategies. Building owners and operators are looking for faster, real-time analysis of the massive volumes of data produced by their systems to improve operational decision-making. It can now be said that the data produced from a device is now more valuable than the cost of the device. We are connecting more devices and crunching data more quickly than ever before. The edge is here, and it is here to stay. An effective way to look at the edge is it’s not the end of the pipeline but rather the beginning of the pipeline. Connecting, collecting, and processing data at the edge is becoming a prerequisite for today’s smarter buildings.

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