While cloud is replacing conventional data centers at the core of the network, an entirely new technology tier – “edge” – is emerging as a complementary source of IT infrastructure, supporting many innovative technologies that promise to extend the use and impact of technology into entirely new domains.

Connectedness is an intrinsic component of the edge. It applies in two directions: client devices ranging from PCs to smartphones to sensors connect to more gateways and other powerful edge systems, which process time-critical responses and then communicate data safely back to clouds at the core of the infrastructure fabric.

The edge is broad in scope and deployment. It moves with the user of a device or an appliance or a transport, it morphs when a sensor or a beacon is triggered and it can expand or change when real and/or augmented environments interact. The edge includes the devices and networks that deliver mobility to users – and it also describes the infrastructure needed to support leading-edge solutions like IoT, autonomous and connected vehicles and field-ready AR/VR systems – solutions in which devices are connected and configured to support remote monitoring/service/control, or harvesting data from one or more connected systems and applying contextual analytics to support smarter decision making, or delivering inputs needed to provide better insight into current and future business opportunity.

To be fair, many of these edge-dependent systems are still in their infancy, and will gain widespread adoption after 2018 (or potentially, at some point in the next decade). But there are signposts that we can see today, which indicate how edge resources and expectations will evolve.

One such example is found in “connected PC.” In the context of a Interwork platform in 2018, connected PC may look like an odd inclusion – shouldn’t we focus instead on growth areas like sensors or smartphones, rather than an aging device type that is being eclipsed by these newer form factors?

The systems that will be enabled by smartphones and sensors are truly worthy of the interest paid to them in the trade (and business) press. It’s unlikely that connected PCs will form the basis of systems that shift basic business understandings in the ways that IoT solutions will. If we take a deeper look at connected PCs, though, we start to see how the connected edge can change our expectations of even the most standard technologies.

The case for delving into connected PC starts with an understanding of how PCs have been eclipsed by alternative devices. Tablets carved a niche out of the traditional laptop market because they offered a lightweight alternative and because they supported a new (pen) interface. Smartphones gained share from laptops for multiple reasons, including ‘always on’ connectivity and support for a new (voice) interface. Both smartphones and tablets also tend to offer superior mobility, because they can operate for extended periods without recharging their batteries.

But…what happens when edge-connected PCs also offer these capabilities? Always-connected laptops with greatly enhanced battery life are on the (immediate) horizon. These devices will support voice and/or pen interfaces, and will accommodate traditional input and output modes – keyboard, mouse, display – far better than small-screened smartphones or optionally-keyboarded tablets. And PCs will continue to deliver more robust support for productivity and collaboration applications that demand more resources than smaller-footprint alternatives can deliver – bringing a more powerful tool to edge-resident users.

Importantly, business management believes in the power of connected PCs to enhance productivity. In a survey fielded by Techaisle, 30% of SMBs (1-999 employee size segment) reported that the impact of mobility is greatest in accelerating employee workflow. PCs that couple the same kind of mobile access as smartphones with superior application and user support align directly with this management objective.

The path to connected PCs will be at least somewhat rocky. Most businesses aren’t looking to refresh their existing PC portfolios with higher-cost units that integrate with other environments in new ways – and connected PCs will need to compete with other edge devices, edge infrastructure and other Interwork platform options for scarce capital funds. Always-on PCs will have an impact on OPEX as well, creating new cost (bandwidth usage) and security challenges, which will likely require updates to the mobile device management (MDM) solutions and policies within firms adopting the technology.

Still, though, for many SMBs, these investments and the associated potential for risk exposure will be modest compared with the benefits that can be realized through better staff productivity. Connected PCs won’t be at the top of every business’s shopping list – but they will find a home as an enabling layer of the Interwork platform. And connected PCs are just a small (if near-term accessible) component of the edge as a whole. Connected edge will work with connected cloud to deliver the ‘yin and yang’ of the Interwork platform’s infrastructure.

You can download our point-of-view document here: Future of Work needs Interwork Platform: next step in connected business