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What’s Ahead for the Edge?

In this video recap of Data Center World 2022, executives from Dell Technologies and Switch discuss the future of edge computing.

At Data Center World 2022, Dell Technologies executive Ihab Tarazi and Switch chief revenue officer Jonathan King discussed edge computing. Tarazi said he believes the edge will take time to mature but that many organizations today are preparing to use it. The end goal, he said, is to generate data that can be used for automation, insight, and new business opportunities

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Ihab Tarazi: So, what is the edge going to look like?

First, let's start by saying the edge is not coming, because it's already here. It's happening. Lots of activities are happening at the edge, but it's going to be this long cycle. It took a lot longer than we all thought for the buildout of the cloud, and the edge will take just as long. But it has started.

So, it looks like bringing intelligence and automation into e-tail stores. It looks like as much autonomous behavior as you can achieve in manufacturing. It looks like autonomous vehicles and everything else.

But for the most part, practically, what the edge is, is you're starting to generate a lot of data from all these things you're doing to build out your business. And you have to be able to store that data and process it. And you also have to put compute to bring the kind of level of performance needed for that automation. More and more, maybe half of it, will be AI-driven. More and more, AI in general is a big part of what has to happen with compute anyway. So that's what the edge is looking like – more form factors of compute, more software stacks, more applications, more automation, that's showing up in all kinds of places that probably never had an IT-type infrastructure. We may have Wi-Fi or something like that. And now, suddenly, you're introducing an IT-type class of compute and storage in places that weren’t there.

Jonathan King: It's a paradox. The edge is out at the edge, but by definition it's connected to everything else, because that's where its value sustains. Would you agree to that?

Tarazi: Yeah, I think what's very clear now also is that the definition of the edge requires connectivity. Unlike any other place of the infrastructure, the edge requires connectivity to be part of it. Most people are designing connectivity to be part of the edge. And the most obvious and talked about connectivity is Wi-Fi. And then now 5G. Mobility is becoming a big topic, with all kinds of spectrum options, all kinds of new companies and new solutions coming out, and a lot of new capabilities to extend 5G to the edge, which is becoming more and more like another application for edge compute.

King: What's the time horizon? What are the inflection points that we think about in the coming years? I won't ask you to predict by what date certain things will happen. If you could do that, I'd be very impressed. But what are the major inflections? I'm sure an obvious one would be where we are with the 5G rollout, right? That is going to be a key inflection point. Is that the primary inflection point, or are there others you see?

Tarazi: Yeah, if we take 5G as one example of inflection, I think that the software stacks, the CPU, the processing, and the kinds of capabilities that are needed to do 5g at a large scale, are just starting to show up. And people are still looking to see how to do it in a smaller form factor cost-effectively. Spectrum options are now available. Now you have C-band deployment coming out with all the big telcos.

If you take that as an example, each one of those things that I talked about is a multiyear cycle, of between five to 10 years. So, think that we just started this long cycle, and, like everything else we've seen before, think of how the internet was built, or the cloud. You're going find some places wired, some capabilities available, and then more and more, it becomes more and more integrated into what we do.

So, my best thing to say is we're at the beginning of the cycle and the cycle is long. That's probably what I would say.

King: And maybe the final point there is it's like growing a tree – the best time to grow it is today because there's a lot to do. It's coming. It's happening today. But with 5G and capabilities and the modernization of other capabilities related to it, it’s a journey to go on. And as the inflection of 5G comes, you must be prepared and ready for it, because it's not just as simple as, ‘Hey, just install this and go.’ There’s a lot of other groundwork to do. You can be doing that groundwork to be ready for edge to scale.

Tarazi: The vast majority of companies, enterprises, or otherwise have been dedicating some time to answer this question: ‘What's our connectivity strategy, 5G or otherwise, at the edge?’ And also, ‘What are our edge requirements and automation and what do we need to do?’ Usually, when you start to see brainpower and time being spent, that's a prelude to starting to invest, deploy, experiment, and POCs. I think the vast majority of companies are at that stage right now.

At the end of the day, this is all about data, because in most companies, most enterprises, or even telcos, the business model is about collecting, monetizing, and processing data. Therefore, the edge, while it's good to get connectivity and compute, at the end of the day, it's all about generating data and being able to use it for automation, insight, and the creation of new business opportunities and new business models.

This is, as we say, the data era. An enormous amount of data will be generated at the edge. All these edge discussions are about collecting and processing the data. And you need to bring that data back to your colocation or data centers because that's where you're able to compare it to other data or on your algorithms or machine learning models and be able to do something with it.

The edge has been solved, and connectivity is coming up. It's all about data that's starting to be generated and will continue to become a huge part of everything we talk about. I mean, every single thing you hear about from, let's say, AR or VR or anything else, has a huge multiplier of the amount of data generated and processed. So, every single application and every single use case you hear about does generate data. And connectivity is about bringing the data back to where it's most useful and can be processed.

Data Center World 2023 will be held in Austin, Texas, from May 8-11.

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