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March 16, 2023

Edge Caching Explained & Why You Should Be Using It

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March 16, 2023
Chris Staudinger
Community Collaborator

Table of Contents

The secret to scaling your Internet content delivery is here: edge caching


Slow websites kill conversions. You've probably experienced this when trying to purchase something online, or streaming videos from a service that keeps buffering. The slower the page takes to load, the more anxious you get. This is why every technical team and business owner should take an interest in caching responses and enhancing performance. There are lots of ways you can speed up your site, app, or platform, but one of the best ways is to cache at the edge; this technique is called edge caching.

Edge caching is a technology that improves the performance of applications and accelerates the delivery of data and content to end users. By moving content delivery to the edge of your network, you can make your platform more performant by speeding up the process of delivering content from the global network.

What is the edge?

The internet is a global network of computers and servers that communicate with each other to share, process, and exchange data and information. The term “edge” refers to the entry point to that network. At the periphery are devices that connect to the network such as routers, laptops, and mobile phones. In recent years, advancements in technology have led to the development of small, powerful processors that can be built into all kinds of intelligent devices, such as smart fridges, self-driving cars, edge servers, and IoT gateways.

When you visit a website, your browser has to make a request to an origin server and return the response back to your device. This process might sound simple enough, however, it can take longer than expected due to latency issues. The farther away your device is from the origin server, the greater number of hops it will take for your request to reach its destination and for a response to be returned. This architectural design is especially problematic for platforms that cater to users around the world with large amounts of data and content to deliver.

The rise of powerful edge devices has led to the development of edge computing, a technology that promises to solve the performance limitations inherent in common architectural patterns. Until recently, most IoT devices were fairly simple, with limited processing and storage capabilities. As these devices become more sophisticated and complex, however, the need for a more flexible architecture is becoming clear.

What is edge computing?

Edge computing is an evolution of cloud-computing patterns. In the cloud-based approach, computations are all done in a centralized location. Your application might have users in Germany, Australia, and Africa, but your centralized server(s) are in North America. This can cause significant latency as requests and data need to do a round-trip across the world from a user’s device to the centralized/origin server and back. Edge computing breaks the traditional idea that processing and data storage must be done in a centralized location. With edge computing, processing can be performed at the edge of the network where it’s closer to the end users, which means that your data won't have to travel across the network.

Edge computing has several advantages, but the most notable is that it improves user experience by reducing latency for applications, services, and IoT devices. In addition to providing faster services for end users, it also helps reduce cloud costs by reducing the amount of traffic being sent to centralized data centers (which can be located anywhere in the world).

How does edge computing relate to edge caching?

Caching has been a popular performance-boosting technique well before edge computing was first introduced. Before edge computing, caches were stored on a server or device located within the network, such as a web server or a content delivery network (CDN).

With the rise of edge computing, the edge has moved beyond being merely a point of access to the network to being used as a place for data processing and storage; in the context of edge caching, it is increasingly used as a location to store cache. Edge caching allows businesses to cache frequently accessed data or content on a server or device that is located closer to the end-users, such as an edge server or a device at the network edge. Edge caching is a great way to improve performance, but that doesn't mean every platform should use edge caching. Before you rally your team to deploy edge caching, let's examine the benefits, drawbacks, and use cases of this strategy.

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Benefits of edge caching

More people have access to the internet than ever before, it has become an essential part of modern life. The world of today is flooded with a constant stream of data and media. Keeping up with this growing demand for content has become an increasingly important concern for business owners and technical teams. The trend toward edge-based solutions, such as edge caching, is a response to the need for companies to maintain a competitive presence in the market. Storing content and data in a cache located at the edge can provide many benefits, including:

  • Speed: The closer your content is to the end user, the faster it will load. Edge caching can reduce latency by several orders of magnitude — up to milliseconds or even microseconds on mobile networks!
  • Reliability: Edge caching can provide high availability by serving cached content when failures are occurring at the origin or along transit paths. This ensures that your platform will be available to your users, even when other parts of the network are experiencing problems.
  • Security: Edge caches are often located in private networks, which enhances the security of sensitive data like personally identifiable information. Eliminating the need to pass data through a public network is especially useful for industries with regulatory compliance concerns like healthcare and financial services.
  • Reduced costs: By reducing the load on your origin servers and network traffic, you can reduce the amount of workload on your cloud server. This could mean significant savings on your cloud bill.

Limitations of edge caching

As with anything, edge caching is not without its limitations. Some drawbacks to consider are:

  • Limited capacity: The amount of data and content that can be cached at the edge is limited by the capacity of edge servers and devices. Although technological advances have increased capacity in recent years, you may still find yourself limited at this point in time.
  • Inconsistency: If the data or content you are caching frequently changes, you may find that your cache becomes obsolete quickly. This can be a downside to caching in general and highlights why it is important to carefully select which data or content to cache. In addition, implementing cache-invalidation techniques and expiration times can help mitigate this problem.
  • Complexity: Edge caching can add a layer of complication to your infrastructure and tech stack, especially if you have to consider invalidation techniques and expiration dates. Depending on the size of your team, and other priorities you might have, building and maintaining an architecture that enables edge caching may be too large for your organization at this point in time.

Common use cases for edge caching

Now that you're familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of edge caching, it's time to evaluate your platform against some common use cases for edge caching.

  • Gaming platform: Video games are resource-intensive, requiring huge amounts of graphics and audio files. Caching these assets at the edge can drastically improve gameplay performance. In addition to improving performance, edge caching can also lower costs by reducing the amount of traffic that has to traverse the public internet before going back into the private network.
  • Video streaming: Streaming services can encounter high levels of network congestion which can lead to poor performance and user experience. In order to alleviate this problem, video files can be cached at the edge of the network. This will allow devices to stream video without sending a request to a centralized server; improving performance and increasing the platform's availability.
  • IoT devices: IoT devices are becoming more powerful, complex, and interconnected, with more capabilities than ever before. This means that there is an increasing amount of data being sent from one device to another each day. This also means that there are many more points where network congestion can occur. Edge caching can help to reduce bandwidth usage by moving critical data to the device itself. IoT devices often require real-time interactions, edge caching dramatically improves performance as IoT devices can access the cached data almost instantaneously. Additionally, database queries and API responses can be cached on an edge device, allowing dynamic processing to be significantly faster as it’s done close to the IoT device which significantly reduces latency.  Moving cache to the edge is becoming increasingly attractive as more and more powerful IoT devices hit the market.

Wrapping up

While edge-based solutions are still in their infancy, it is already apparent that they're poised to make major waves in the tech industry, and edge caching is sure to be a part of that. HarperDB is one example of a technology that is changing the way people think about data management by enabling solutions like edge caching. For the end user, the advantages are remarkable: from more instantaneous data delivery and faster cloud access to greater protection from network attacks and a decrease in latency issues. Those who don't adopt edge caching in some capacity will likely find themselves losing ground in their respective markets as competitors with more modern infrastructures gain a competitive advantage.

While you're here, learn about HarperDB, a breakthrough development platform with a database, applications, and streaming engine in one unified solution.

Check out HarperDB