What Sets Edge Computing Apart? Customizing Physical Infrastructure for Maximum Impact

By Emily Newton is a tech journalist with over five years of experience covering how technology is changing industry and business. Keep up with Emily by connecting with her on LinkedIn

Edge computing promises to revolutionize the way many industries operate. It will usher in a new era of connectivity, take automation to new heights and finally make self-driving cars a reality. In order to get there, though, you have to consider edge computing infrastructure.

This side of edge computing is easy to overlook, but it is important not to. Physical factors make a much bigger difference when your data processing relies on small devices spread across the surrounding environment. Infrastructure must account for several unique concerns for these endpoints to function as they should.

Environmental Protections

The most apparent physical need for edge computing infrastructure is protection against the elements. Gone are the days of climate-controlled server rooms. Edge devices must withstand more extreme temperatures, humidity, physical impacts, and even rain and snow in some cases.

There is a reason why hardware accounted for 43% of edge computing revenue in 2023. Before you can develop services around distributed edge devices, the endpoints must withstand the environment they are placed in. That may not be an issue for office buildings, but placing edge devices throughout city streets complicates things.

Waterproofing may be necessary for some edge endpoints. At the very least, these devices should be moisture-resistant. Some may need enclosures to keep them out of the snow or protect them from crushing hazards. Others need cooling systems to prevent overheating in outdoor or industrial environments.

Connectivity Considerations

Accounting for these physical protections would be easier if connectivity was not also an issue. Edge computing hinges on wireless communications, so its infrastructure cannot sacrifice signal strength and clarity by placing metal boxes around everything.

Many edge networks will use 5G connections, as they enable latencies as low as one millisecond and have massive bandwidth. However, 5G uses smaller wavelengths, making them more prone to signal blocking and interference. Consequently, edge infrastructure needs to consider RF interference and other signal quality issues.

Physical shielding may need special materials or designs to block interference while letting desired signals through. The ideal way to do that will change depending on the application, its surrounding challenges and its communication protocol.

Access Concerns

Edge computing infrastructure must also enable easy access. Placing devices at heights or tucked away in corners may clear up space and protect them from damage, but it makes maintenance difficult.

At the same time, some edge endpoints will need physical access protections to keep users out. Edge data centers in public spaces cannot be accessible to everyone; otherwise, attackers could easily install malware or otherwise tamper with them. Even within a workplace, only authorized employees should be able to access these devices.

You could address these concerns through a simple keycard system. Biometrics or numbered keypad locks may also work. However, highly sensitive applications, like nearby CCTV cameras, may need additional security.


A more overlooked but still important factor is how convenient edge infrastructure is. Bulky physical protections and locks may do their jobs well, but they are not ideal if employees keep running into them.

Edge computing means workplaces and public spaces will have more electronics than ever. That expansion can quickly get in the way if the surrounding infrastructure is too bulky or disruptive. Taking up physical space is an obvious part of that, but noise from fans matters, too.

Sliding drawers to move edge endpoints in and out of the way could work well in some situations. Undermount drawer slides work particularly well, as they take up less space, minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment, though they are more expensive. In other scenarios, you may have to place edge devices further away from high-traffic areas or favor compact hardware.

Matching Edge Computing Infrastructure to the Environment

It is important to remember that not every edge computing application has the same environmental factors. As a result, what constitutes ideal edge computing infrastructure in one area may not be in another. Generally speaking, these different environments fall into three main categories — indoor, outdoor and industrial.

Indoor Applications

Indoor edge applications like storefronts and office buildings are the easiest to manage. These environments are safe from the elements, so physical protections are not as dire a need. Data also does not have to travel as far, making RF interference less of a concern.

Physical space is a bigger issue for edge infrastructure in these applications. While the shift to remote work has left 19.6% of office space vacant, space constraints still affect many indoor business centers. Consequently, related infrastructure may need to sacrifice more robust protections in favor of smaller form factors.

While it may not seem like it initially, authorized access is another big concern here. Insider threats account for many data breaches today, so indoor edge data centers need locks or similar methods to keep unauthorized hands out.

Outdoor Applications

As edge computing grows, smart cities will, too. These projects will entail outdoor edge infrastructure, which must grapple with an entirely different set of challenges.

Space is less of a concern in these environments, as they have far more of it. However, edge endpoints in the open air must also withstand changing weather conditions. Depending on how sensitive these electronics are, they could be shielded against rain, wind, heat, cold, and ice.

These environments may also experience more RF interference or rely on different communication standards to support longer-range transmissions. Infrastructure here may also need protection against physical shocks, which will likely mean bulkier shielding and thoughtful placement.

Industrial Applications

Industrial workplaces present a unique set of challenges. Manufacturing accounts for the most edge computing investments of any sector, but factory floors are not as predictable or calm as an office, so they deserve special attention.

Like outdoor environments, industrial applications pose significant heat, moisture and vibration hazards. However, they also have limited space, similar to low-intensity indoor use cases. Consequently, edge infrastructure in these locations must balance physical protection and convenience.

RF interference may also pose an issue, as these workplaces may feature more connected equipment in a small space. Small-cell 5G installations can help by boosting signal strength throughout the area. Keep in mind, though, that these take space and require protection, too.

Edge Computing Infrastructure Must Serve Unique Needs

Edge computing will eventually come to every kind of workplace and public area you can think of. While that is great news in many ways, it also means edge computing infrastructure must adapt to several unique considerations depending on the environment.

Accounting for these diverse needs is not easy, but it ensures edge networks work well despite the challenges they face. Attention to these details will help this innovation reach its full potential faster.