Jason Walker is Managing Director, Cloud and Service Provider Business Development for Schneider Electric; and Mary Meduski is President and CFO of TierPoint.
The value of connectivity today cannot be understated. It is fundamentally changing the way we live and work, and in our always-on digital world, connectivity helps us communicate, travel, conduct business, and stay informed and entertained. But with this value comes great responsibility: As our dependency on connectivity continues to exponentially increase, so will the demand on the IT infrastructure that supports it.
One of the most interesting developments of the last two decades has been the insatiable demand for greater volumes of richer content. Online behaviors have evolved from the point at which downloading content was a primary focus, to today, when uploading content (often, user-generated content) is an increasingly ubiquitous activity. And that need for uploading – for sharing content between end users – has, in turn, been driven by the proliferation of online social tools and platforms. More recently, transformative technologies such as 5G, virtual reality, artificial intelligence systems, drones and autonomous cars all demand greater connectivity in order to reach their full potential.
Taken together, this evolving, multi-layered, multi-directional demand for greater connectivity is driving businesses and their IT operations closer to the edge of the network.
Edge: The Great Enabler
The edge has emerged as a solution to address the explosive demand for connectivity by delivering improved speed, reduced latency, and greater efficiency. And as a result, it is creating cost savings, a technologically more efficient IT platform, and a better end-user experience.
Simply put, a lot of new technology is less effective without the edge. Take autonomous cars, for example. Some analysts predict these cars could generate up to 25 gigabytes of data in an hour. That’s nearly 30 times more data than an HD video stream. These cars will also require real-time information about traffic patterns and nearby vehicles, coming from multiple sources – and this large, complex, dynamic, interwoven, multi-layered data flow will need to be evaluated to accurately inform the driverless car’s actions. Moving and computing this data over shorter distances (with lower latency) – at the edge – will contribute to the car’s real-time performance and the safety of its passengers.
Another example is the roll-out of the 5G network. The implications for 5G technology are widespread and customers’ expectations of the speed and responsiveness of this network are already huge. If the physical infrastructure is not aligned to support it, the network will fail.
Currently, around 10 percent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional, centralized data center or cloud, according to Gartner. By 2022, this figure will reach 50 percent, indicating that the demand for edge capabilities has only reached the tip of the iceberg.
Key Considerations When Moving to the Edge
The “edge” means different things for different companies and different applications. Organizations that are contemplating an edge presence must go through a series of questions and considerations as they start to deploy and operate at the edge. For example:
Technology. Is their technology ready and capable of working within an edge environment? Are their applications, storage, etc., mature enough from a platform and software perspective, or would deploying at the edge introduce performance challenges? Businesses will need a comprehensive, all-in solution that can be deployed at the edge. This includes the infrastructure and IT kit assimilated into one platform that is transparent, monitored, and secured. They also need to consider their service delivery model to support their distributed IT environment. Are they able to efficiently manage and monitor multiple sites on their own? Or do they need to work with a service partner to effectively operate the sites and keep equipment up and running?
Location. Moving to the edge means that businesses need greater IT capabilities in more locations, so one challenge is pinpointing where they need an edge presence. In which secondary markets are they experiencing the greatest growth in demand? Where is that increased demand contributing to latency issues and bandwidth costs on a long-haul basis?
Infrastructure. The surrounding infrastructure of the edge environment is absolutely critical. Do the edge markets under consideration have reliable and stable power infrastructure? Do they feature world-class data centers? Which of those data centers have available, usable space? How much space? What are their security protocols? What regulatory compliance certifications do they hold? Do they offer robust connectivity – both over the last mile and into carrier hotels, where global, national, and super-regional providers converge?
Answering these and related questions is of paramount importance before embarking on a journey to the edge.
The Edge Frontier
In the next few years we can expect the edge to become increasingly prolific as emerging environments begin to take hold. These include the market edge, to deliver lower latency, reduced bandwidth costs, and distributed compute capabilities in secondary and tertiary markets; the cell tower edge, to deliver an optimal experience for users streaming movies, music, news content, and more; the home or residential edge, to support the growth of smart home technology; and the retail edge, for smart warehousing (i.e., facilities controlled by robots and computers).
For some industries, the move to the edge will be relatively seamless, as they’ve already started to answer questions like those listed above. In other cases, the journey will be a much more complex and dramatic transition. Either way, companies will continue betting their chips on the edge, as we continue the journey to this next frontier of connectivity.