Edge computing infrastructure for AI workloads

AI has undoubtedly taken the spotlight this year, with its popularity steadily on the rise. However, rapid advancements in AI pose new requirements for edge computing infrastructure due to the increased demand for dense, compute-intensive infrastructure.

Following the introduction of ChatGPT, AI is now centre stage. The versatility of AI has been a crucial factor in its success, ranging from simplifying everyday manual tasks to serving industrial applications and beyond. Some AI applications come with specific requirements, including ultra-low latency, substantial compute power for model training, and large-scale data collection. Edge computing, with its ability to serve these needs, offers a compelling solution for meeting the infrastructure needs of some AI workloads.

What is the role of edge computing in AI?

Edge AI – a term for the use of edge infrastructure for AI development and deployment – possesses the ability to provide substantial speed and reliability improvements, low latency for mission-critical applications, and cost-effective solutions. These factors can be crucial for the delivery and training of AI models.

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The future of edge AI infrastructure: GPUs versus CPUs

The debate over GPUs versus CPUs is one crucial aspect of this landscape. CPUs, most commonly used in edge infrastructure deployments today and known for their suitability across a multitude of use cases and compute requirements. However, CPUs may struggle to handle heavier workloads, especially in the demanding field of AI, prompting discussions about a potential shift towards increased GPU usage.

GPUs are gaining traction because of their ability to handle intensive workloads, especially in applications like computer vision-driven video analytics. They also excel in the deep training of AI models, a crucial characteristic for the development of AI. GPUs, come at a higher cost compared to general-purpose CPUs, making them challenging to use at scale. Considered and strategic planning will be required from those looking to deploy GPUs at the edge to try and ensure that these expensive assets do not end up being under-utilised.

Figure 1: Advantages and disadvantages of CPU versus GPUs

 

With both CPUs and GPUs having different advantages, the choice between CPUs and GPUs will depend on the specific application requirements in the context of edge AI. For instance, for tasks that require lower power consumption, and versatility, CPUs may be a better choice due to their cost-effectiveness. However, if an application demands high-performance AI processing, especially for deep learning models, GPUs are likely the preferred option.

The question of whether GPUs will replace CPUs as the preferred infrastructure at the edge was raised in a recent survey by STL Partners. In the survey, 43% of the respondents thought GPUs would be used for AI/ML workloads at the edge, while 39% chose CPUs for these tasks, showing that the market remains split.

This perhaps should not come across as a surprise, partly because of the advancements made by large chipset players, notably Intel, who have produced AI-specific CPUs that can operate at the edge and handle high compute power. These developments begin to blur the fundamental differences between CPU and GPU in the first place.

To read more about STL’s analysis of the role of edge computing in enabling AI workloads, see Edge AI – How AI is sparking the adoption of edge computing.

Ela Eren

Author

Ela Eren

Consultant

Ela Eren is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in sustainability and telco cloud.

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