Edge computing – the delivery of computing power close to where organizations generate and use data – is a major advance in national IT infrastructure. It will transform the range of opportunities open to the UK’s service providers and app-builders.
Often billed as an evolution rather than revolution, edge computing means businesses outside the immediate hinterland of the major cloud providers will gain access to a vast array of new SaaS applications through low latency connectivity, regardless of location.
Simon Michie is CTO at Pulsant.
Foresighted investment in edge data centers and the gradual expansion of 5G connectivity are what make this possible. It is reshaping access to advanced cloud capabilities and enables companies providing online services or applications to access new markets, provide higher levels of performance and create new use cases and business models.
Edge will create a wealth of new value streams. Statista estimates the worldwide edge market will grow to $250.6bn by 2024, boosting implementation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and meeting expanding demand for remote models of work and business. Market intelligence provider IHS Markit believes by 2030 the number of devices connected to the internet could reach 125 billion
Low latency is the fuel
This remarkable growth of IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven automation and analytics, depends on low latency. Augmented reality, virtual reality and most Industry 4.0 IoT implementations require latency as low as 1ms to 10ms. This high-speed connectivity is what enables real-time multi-person gaming, life-changing remote health technologies, and automated trading in capital markets.
The fundamental requirement for low latency used to mean many areas outside the South East of England were at a severe disadvantage when it came to processing high volumes of data in AI and machine learning applications. Now, however, the establishment of national edge computing platforms enables almost all areas to access these advances. Businesses deploying AI applications can process large amounts of data in an edge data center close to their location, transferring to the public cloud, only what they need to, reducing the costs of backhaul to the main hyperscalers’ hubs.
This is how, for example, oil and gas extraction businesses or pharmaceutical manufacturers can implement industrial IoT applications such as digital twin technologies that transform efficiency and enable new products and services
An effective ecosystem and a nationwide edge platform
However, the success of this major shift in computing capability depends on certain key elements. These include a functioning ecosystem that encompasses the telcos and communications service providers, along with the public cloud companies and specialists in microservices, containerization, virtualization and related fields. Above all, it requires a scalable national network of edge data centers to ensure every end-user, regardless of location, has low latency, high-bandwidth connections to their edge workloads and their data in the public or private cloud.
Edge data centers are situated between the on-ramp to the public cloud and network-to-network telecoms interfaces, positioning them perfectly to enable cloud service providers to expand coverage. Aware that customers want flexibility and control, more advanced edge networks have equipped themselves to facilitate hybrid and multi-cloud models, giving enterprise customers’ access to the cost, performance and cybersecurity advantages of different providers and environments.
Because they are now so well-positioned, the UK’s edge data centers provide a platform for application-builders and cloud service providers to enter new markets and deliver new services to almost anywhere on the planet.
How the edge is evolving
We can see how the edge is developing to everyone’s advantage, with telecoms and hyperscalers starting to form partnerships with edge computing platforms. Last year, for example, Telefonica Germany partnered with AWS and Ericsson to virtualize its 5G core network. The purpose is to enable fast integration of new applications, reducing cost and removing the need for time-consuming hardware set-ups. Customers need only a 5G radio network with antennae.
For the public cloud vendors, it has become vital to partner with established edge platforms that have ubiquitous low latency coverage and high-speed fiber connections between centers. The more advanced edge platforms achieve sub 5ms latency, regardless of location. They spread the load across several regional data centers, not only processing data closer to each end-user but also reducing the backhaul congestion that drags down performance.
New opportunities, new revenues
For service providers and solution-builders, edge computing holds the genuine promise of new revenue streams from new products, services and markets and changed ways of operating. Independent software vendors all around the world will have millions more customers and the option of creating a more appealing and more bespoke subscription and delivery models. They can orchestrate the network functions and computational infrastructure needed for secure delivery to their ultimate end-consumers. Content providers will be able to offload from their central servers, transforming access and efficiency. The implementation of SD-WAN to optimize bandwidth and prioritize critical applications through smart software will only increase the options open to customers and end-users if service providers and solution-builders opt for the right edge platform.
Businesses using 5G-enabled edge computing are already creating and delivering new use cases. Remote diagnostics in healthcare along with 3D medical imaging is ready to roll, while the availability of low-cost, easily-deployed sensors will extend the IoT beyond traditional heavy industry settings. In manufacturing, edge computing will enable a new level of automation and precision. In the management of ports and logistics, edge computing stands to deliver far higher levels of efficiency across large geographical areas, in complex environments and along entire networks.
Yet for cloud service providers and application-builders, edge computing will only deliver if they form the right partnerships with the right edge providers. They must ensure those partnerships offer genuine low latency, have resilient networks and secure, fast on-ramps to the public cloud. Edge data centers must be strategically-located and connected with seamless, high-bandwidth, high-speed connectivity. They should have true national coverage and offer route diversity to negate the effects of any outage. Once all these basic requirements are in place, the edge will transform the fortunes of service providers and solution-builders.
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Simon Michie is CTO at Pulsant.