To developers, buzzwords like “The Cloud” and “Edge Computing” are just nifty Marketing terms, coined more to describe the trend toward using these infrastructures than for the underlying technology. But now consumer marketers are exploring in-store technologies, everything from customer analytics to digital signage and retail media networks. The delivery of content and digital services to these locations can be handled by either of these infrastructures. However, the choice has important implications on capabilities, speed and responsiveness. Customers care about these choices. So should Marketers.
It is time to understand the fundamentals behind “The Cloud” and “The Edge,” because these are very different approaches, each with its own advantages and limitations for in-store Marketing initiatives.
Getting the Joke: Who invented “The Cloud” and “Edge Computing?”
Have you spotted the eye roll yet? That moment when you approach a developer or software architect and tell them that the content management system you are considering is “in the cloud?”
The phrase is tragically comical for any developer who has over twenty years of experience. The crux of it is that “Cloud technology” existed way before it was called “The Cloud.”
“Cloud Technology” was really invented — not in 2005 when the term was coined, but way back in the 1960s, when Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, developed ARPANET.
Sure, we’ve developed new protocols, hardware and languages to support networking since then. But at its core, “The Cloud” is just networking. That’s all. It is just computers talking to computers.
To use that cloud application, your computer accesses a server, and the server processes the requests and then sends back information as a nice Graphical User Interface (GUI). Google was always “In the Cloud.” More precisely it was a bunch of servers at Stanford University that could be accessed by anyone. Back then in 1998, people just called it “the Internet.”
So why did we recoin the term as “The Cloud?”
So that EVERYONE could get excited about networking. Now do you see the joke?
Networking tech has changed over the years to drive “Cloud Adoption.” Modern web languages and protocols, as well as bandwidth factored into the popularity of networking. Instead of bits, the smallest parcel of digital information, we talk bandwidth in terms of Megabytes (1 MB = 8 million bits). That’s the difference between text and streaming video.
Sure, advanced technology has made a large difference in the things we can do with networking. But nothing magical or sudden happened in the early 2000s to herald “Cloud Computing.”
“The Cloud” was just a time when society caught up with technology. Suddenly everyone realized, hey, we can communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere. That’s pretty cool. And developers had the tools to build more complex applications, so as the age-old economic story goes, supply met demand and everyone lived happily ever after.
Now Get This: “Edge Computing” Is Older than the Cloud
In terms of buzzwords, “Edge Computing” was the cloud’s child. But “Edge Computing” is even simpler to describe than “The Cloud.”
“The Edge” is quite literally any processing that takes place on location and not on a Cloud Server. Your workstation is “Edge Processing.” Isn’t that neat?
Now you can understand the eyeroll. But before we dismiss these buzzwords as total nonsense, it’s important to understand how the underlying infrastructures impact your store technology. Though much older than the hype, they describe two very different approaches.
Edge and Cloud Are Important Concepts for Store Technology
There are plenty of content management systems out there that exist solely “in the cloud.” That is, they feed images and videos from the cloud, which simplifies maintenance, accessibility, and development. But Cloud is not always the right choice for brands.
Technology that Supports either Push or Pull Advertising, In-Store
As fast as the modern Internet has become, it does not give Cloud Apps the same responsiveness as “Edge” processing. Processing information at the source will always be faster and more reliable than sending a request to the cloud, waiting for the server to process that request, and then sending the response all the way back to the source.
Responsiveness does not matter as much in simple push advertisements. In-store, if you need to deliver a handful of images, changed out seasonally, then even System on a Chip (SoC) Displays can offer all the processing and storage you need.
Pull advertising is much different.
Think about websites. Page load time impacts web traffic and engagement. Customers who wait even a few seconds to receive that web page can leave, or at best become annoyed with the brand. Consumers prefer websites that work seamlessly. That same expectation comes through with store experiences. Responsiveness indicates your brand position, in stores as well as on the web and mobile.
At STRATACACHE, we see this principle in effect all the time. Many of our customers deploy responsive digital signage. The data shows that response time matters in these engagements. Each fraction of a second of wait time decreases satisfaction and loyalty.
“Edge Computing” deploys the storage and processing resources to the point of interaction with the customer, speeding up response time — enabling seamless and intuitive interactions with the customer. This capability is not a necessity for marketers that focus on push advertising, but sometimes it is. And it is critical in stores that respond to cues from the customer.
Here are a few use cases:
Digital Signage Use Cases that Need Edge Computing
- Self-service kiosks
- Responsive digital signage, such as Assisted Selling Kiosk (ASK)
- Most fashion displays (high definition images and video require on-premise storage)
- Experiential retail
- Product comparisons
- Large networks
Takeaway: Edge computing required for responsive stores
The terms “Edge” and “Cloud” might be buzzwords, but they do carry an important meaning that is absolutely critical to consumer marketers.
If your brand does intend to evolve its interactions to become more customer-centric, then you will need to allow customers to influence automated responses within the store. These responses are quick and seamless when the store has all of the processing and storage it needs to serve that initial request. That means “Edge Processing.”
Have questions about digital signage infrastructure and software? Let us know!