OK, we’ve heard more about edge computing than we ever did about DCIM or blade servers during their birth and heyday. We’ve all heard the touts – remote, small, powerful, compute/network mix. Everyone is vying for the sound bite and idea that leads to a Nobel in Stockholm. We contend that edge will be productized as a service much like the cloud. We also believe that some edge solutions will build in a network component at the data reception hub. BU that is not the case today. Whatever approach is chosen, it must be linked with a network solution and the reality of a very mobile communication solution on the data gathering end.
Where Do We Start?
It’s so early in the engineering and deployment cycle that no one can say what will be a consensus operationally or even universally sensible. We submit that edge computing applications, to include resiliency, availability, carrier, network, compute, storage, latency, location and the lot. They are simply like all IT operations – specific to each enterprise that has evolved past a point where we know it’s needed but not to a point where the solutions or results are consistent.
The core issue is optimizing latency and the dynamics of data gathering. Edge today may be be physical. Tomorrow, it will certainly be more virtual or something we haven’t seen yet. Edge computing is merely the evolution of the art based on the tools available today posed against anticipated risks or actual tasks. But the one thing everyone has missed is that we’ve seen this BEFORE – with the rise of file servers away from the structured bus-and-tag world of 1980’s data centers. Like then, IT teams are merely adapting their computing ecosystem to the demand of the end use and application.
What is Edge, Really?
Edge computing solution can defined in different ways. Edge is the disaggregation of all or part of your IT infrastructure. What some may not know is that several cloud and hyperscale operators are already disaggregated, with storage and DBA being in physically separate areas or regions. These businesses started with network nodes placed around the world. Businesses simply evolved. Cloud services are an analogy for this – a private application that was physically diverse that became a commercialized, public-access, productized business, all as originally presented by AWS. From that comes the bare-iron business, and so on. Back to the point – edge is disaggregation, followed by commercially varied and viable edge solutions.
So where does that leave us? Before we answer that, we need to understand what are the IT forces afoot – mobile, faster and the gating of what we store and archive. On a derivative basis we should ask what data should we process, transmit and store. Where should we based on the market forces noted below? Add the ability to put some pretty powerful network and compute resources into a smaller footprint, and now we have the nexus of need and ability, albeit without acknowledge precedent. You only have to look at the massive reduction of equipment on cell towers and the evolution of mobile technology to see what can be physically achieved.
What’s Driving the Edge?
We feel there are several near-term forces driving edge and system disaggregation:
- Close-to-consumer network speed for content streaming and uploading.
- Virtual and augmented reality.
- High-volume data transfer for performance measurement, safety and control in autonomous vehicles and drones.
- Merger of mobile and content providers and the resulting merging of communications, media and content by single providers.
- Need of larger compute power in franchise, store or construction site operations that supports larger local compute and buffers existing network Infrastucture.
- The need to hold down application latency based on rapidly increasing loads on the apps lift, their support network, storage and processing infrastructure.
The common theme to all of these market forces is the continued, geometric increase in the amount of data being exchanged or transferred over a network that is has not caught up to the data it supports. In the context of today’s market, edge computing is equivalent to RAM memory. Even when the data can readily flow back to the processing and storage facilities, where is the optimization in the face of mounting data gathering and network demands?
Where will Edge Reside?
An edge data facility is still a data center. The state of the art for data center design and construction with all of the considerations for facility and system availability, maintainability and resiliency remain in force. We anticipate that the disaggregation that edge poses will distribute compute and a storage assets and may place those assets in non-data center facilities.
The challenge will be to place edge assets into facilities or sufficiently robust enclosures outside of data centers that can sustain these IT operations and systems as if they were in white space. Could edge be represented in another data center closer to the data gathering point? Absolutely, and that edge data center function could even reside in someone else’s facility. It could be in a cell shelter or 50 feet in the air on a cell tower. It may a network aspect like mobile or public WiFi that’s not in your network hopper today. In the end, the edge location is specific to your program, but the expectations of how resilient that facility that support that IT activity is not.
Certainly there will be approaches that are pursued will eventually have to consider life outside the safe, clean, quiet and expensive white space of today’s data centers. When you see the comments about “edge on the cell tower” (which we think will happen), you have to consider that not only network, but compute and some storage will have to be put into a shelter, enclosure or space that needs to be temperature-, storm-, humidity-, vandalism- and generally life-resistant. This is the SAME situation we saw in the migration from the mainframe and midrange day to distributed servers in the 1980’s.
We’ve Seen This Before and What Do We Do?
While history is repeating itself, it certainly is not doing so with the same technology or facility approaches we saw in the 1980’s. If we recognize that we’re dealing with data gathering that is increasingly mobile, this forces the edge and disaggregation into a hybrid of WiFi/mobile gathering and remote compute. A good question is who can productize the edge and how does it appear in the data ecosystem. And when we mentioned productize, it’s not merely rebranding and slapping :”eAs with all early stage engagements, cost is considered but function and ability to meet mission need is more important.
As edge is a disaggregation step in the end-to-end compute construct, location is critical. In fact, it’s the base evaluator at this stage for the single purpose of reducing latency in your applications.The purpose of busting the darned thing up is to get it run optimally or in advance of a new program. Yes, it can reside in a data center, but it’s likely not to be one you’re in already. The point to edge we believe is to buffer and prioritize data processing and storage to the core of the IT systems. The basic difference that we see in edge versus cloud is that cloud is not location specific but is capacity specific whereas edge is location and capacity specific.
Edge offers the ability to move compute closer to the point of reception to the data chain v. Cloud or non-visualized facilities. Once thought would represent edge as the IT mitosis of cloud infrastructure to improve performance. Similarly, can edge exist on a server-level where disaggregation of the drive and motherboard mean that power could be applied virtually and very accurately within the foundry?
At some point we’ll reach a the cost and ability to store everything will be outweighed by the cost, complexity and availability of the systems and network to do so? An edge compute play may offer cost savings if scaled services such as SaaS or IaaS can be brought into play to meet system performance goals. As we all acknowledge, the cost dynamic may turn negative at very large scale.
This offers a curious commerical dynamic, where services providers can use the location sensitivity of the customer’s Edge solution to absorb stranded or unoptimized capacity in their own system.