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At the Edge: Experts discuss strategies for scalable and resilient innovation

The tech landscape is constantly evolving, with new advancements emerging at an ever-increasing pace. One of the most transformative trends in recent years is the rise of edge computing. In essence, edge computing redistributes processing power away from centralised cloud data centres and brings it closer to where data is generated – at the “edge” of the network.

A panel discussion themed ‘At the Edge: Strategies for scalable and resilient innovation’ at the 2024 India Tech Leaders Conclave brought together experts such as Nikhil Mittal, CTO, Zepto; Phanimohan Kalagara, CTO, Pine Labs; Sumant Narayanan, Business Head, India and SAARC, Akamai; and Madanmohan Rao, Research Director, YourStory Media; to explore the concept of edge computing and its role in enabling scalable and resilient innovation.

Zepto’s Nikhil Mittal kicked off the discussion by acknowledging its early adoption of edge computing and highlighting two main use cases. The first was on enhancing the customer experience. He elaborated on how Zepto leverages edge computing to personalise user experiences by tailoring home feed recommendations and search results to individual preferences. “We’re striving for hyper-personalisation, essentially a one-to-one approach for each user,” Mittal explained. Additionally, edge computing helps them predict optimal delivery routes for their fleet, leading to improved operational efficiency.

Kalagara of PineLabs then elaborated on the broader applications of edge computing beyond personalisation. He spoke about how edge computing enables functionalities like real-time payments on flights, previously impossible due to network limitations. PineLabs also utilises edge computing to ensure seamless experiences on various devices by using Epoch-certified payment application. This application enables tap-and-pay functionality on any NFC-enabled device. He further explained the importance of edge-based solutions for remote device management and self-healing to minimise downtime and costs associated with resolving issues in millions of devices deployed across the country.

The network crunch: Why edge computing is the future

The moderator, Madanmohan Rao of YourStory, set the stage for the following discussion by highlighting a Gartner prediction that by 2025, 75% of generated data will be processed at the edge itself.

Responding to Rao, Sumant Narayanan of Akamai explained the congestion that arises when massive amounts of data from a growing number of devices need to travel to centralised cloud data centres for processing.

“It’s almost the equivalent of driving to Chinnaswamy stadium when there is an IPL match,” Narayanan said with a smile, “it will get congested, it will get choked. And it will have a bearing on the end experience.” Edge computing offers a solution by processing data closer to its source, reducing network congestion and improving user experience. Akamai is facilitating this shift by opening up its platform for customers to run their own code at the edge, enabling a more scalable edge computing setup.

Security concerns: Balancing growth with protection in edge computing

The conversation then shifted towards cybersecurity challenges in edge computing. Mittal pointed out the increased complexity of managing infrastructure with edge nodes and the challenges associated with data synchronisation and consistency. Mittal talked about a specific use case: offline delivery marking. Network limitations force temporary offline updates that require later syncing. “Recently, we implemented offline delivery marking,” he explained. “In some apartments, poor internet connectivity can stall delivery partners when marking orders complete. Our solution allows them to mark deliveries offline.” He then shifted gears to address the risk of relying on third-party vendors for edge computing solutions.

Kalagara emphasised the magnified security surface in fintech, where financial data is at stake. “And the construct of edge computing increases the surface area that needs to be secured,” he said.

He stressed the importance of compliance and strong security practices like two-factor authentication, biometrics, and robust encryption. He framed security as a balancing act between increased attack surfaces and the need to deliver exceptional user experiences. “Yes, it does increase the challenge, it does increase the opportunity, it is actually how far you’re moving the needle and how you’re actually balancing between those two,” Kalagara concluded.

Narayanan delved into the evolving landscape of cyberattacks, emphasising the shift from lone hackers to well-resourced criminal organisations. “The attack surface has significantly expanded,” he explained. “There’s the app itself; then there are partner APIs, and various entry points – stores, manufacturing warehouses – attackers can exploit.” He highlighted how securing the edge becomes critical in this scenario, as it allows for blocking attacks before they infiltrate the core network. “In essence,” he said, “we’re not just dealing with a wider variety of attacks, but the very nature of the threat necessitates stopping them at the edge, before they reach the core.”

Two sides of the same coin: Secure API integration for the edge

Kalagara emphasised the importance of a two-pronged approach for secure API integration: robust engineering practices and a well-defined lifecycle management strategy. He outlined various security measures like penetration testing, proper authorisation, and lifecycle management to achieve this.

“Both aspects are crucial,” Narayanan said. “On the engineering side, it starts with building a strong foundation – having a security-focused team embedded within your SDLC, right from the initial concept stage of an app or API.” He elaborated on the importance of API lifecycle management, ensuring outdated APIs don’t become vulnerabilities.

“Effectively sunsetting APIs and managing their lifecycles is the second critical aspect. This involves defining usage guidelines, implementing checks and balances, and understanding how partners interact within the ecosystem,” he explained.

Narayanan pointed out that 30% of Akamai’s network traffic is API traffic. He highlighted the challenges of securing APIs due to their inherent data-sharing nature.

“What makes securing APIs hard is it’s fundamentally designed to share data,” Narayanan said. He discussed the importance of maintaining visibility into the entire API ecosystem, constantly monitoring for vulnerabilities and analysing any behavioural anomalies. “Visibility of your entire ecosystem of all your API endpoints – that’s non-negotiable. That’s where you really want to start,” he explained.

Moreover, he stressed the need for robust API testing before deployment to address potential security risks proactively. “Traditional signature-based security tools have limitations. What happens when authorised credentials are used in sophisticated attacks?” Narayanan questioned. He stressed the need for advanced security solutions to detect such complex threats.

The panel discussion provided valuable insights into the potential of edge computing to drive innovation while acknowledging the challenges associated with security and data management. As the world generates ever-increasing amounts of data, edge computing offers a promising solution for scalable and resilient innovation across various industries. By adopting a secure and strategic approach to edge computing, businesses can unlock its potential to transform their operations and deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Watch the entire session here.

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