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Data at the edges

By 2022, seven out of every 10 bytes of data created will stay where they are created. Source: WEF

The Moore’s law, the doubling of transistors on a chip (of a given size) every 18 months and the parallel having of cost per transistor has basically been matched by the growth of data, hence, roughly speaking, our capability to process data has been in synch with the number of data we needed to process.

Today the Moore’s law is no longer working (particularly in the cost dimension) and data are still growing very fast. According to IDC/EMC Digital Universe Report  15.8 ZB were produced in 2017  and the expectation is for a production of 44 ZB in 2020 ( a ZettaByte is 1 billion GB).

A side effect of the Moore’s law was that the more transistors (smaller) you placed on a chip the less power (per transistor) was needed and the faster transistors processed data. This association stopped working around 2008 (well before the end of the Moore’s law) and that reduced the data crunching capability growth.

The progress of processing capacity has driven the creation of data centre and led to centralising data (in clouds with locally distributed processing units). The stop to the increase of processing (only marginally circumvented by multicore chips) and the parallel increase of data generated at the edges is now leading to a situation where only a minor portion of data is processed centrally.

According to the World Economic Forum, see graphic, by 2022 out of 10 bytes created only 3 will end up in a data centre, with the other 7 remaining at the edge, where they have been created. Of course part of this is related to the staggering increase of data produces by the consumer marker (you and me as individual, think about the photos you take with your cellphone that stay in your cellphone or move to your friends cellphones but not in a data centre).

The fact is that our devices, starting with our smartphone, have a huge amount of processing power making it possible to process data locally.

In the coming years I bet that also network infrastructure architectures will be slanted towards the edge and intra edge communications (including direct device to device and device mediated communications) will increase significantly. By the way, 5G from an architectural point of view is ready for this paradigm shift (whether this is desirable for Operators is quite a different story).

Keeping data at the edges may also be a way to increase privacy and it is surely a way to transfer value to the devices operating at the edges.

It is a cycle that is repeating itself: when something is expensive and requires a lot of investment you end up centralising because only a few can afford such investment and the resource can be shared among many decreasing the end user cost. If, on the contrary the cost goes down you see decentralisation taking over …

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.