Edge Computing Will Decentralize but Complement Traditional and Cloud-Based Data Center Architectures

C. Drake

Summary Bullets:

  • Although edge computing will decentralize IT, it will not replace traditional data centers or cloud-based architectures, instead operating as an additional tier of IT processing, storage, security, and analytics.
  • In addition to supporting IoT, edge computing use cases will include VR, AR, and connected car applications that are latency-sensitive and require high levels of performance.

Edge computing promises to transform the way data center resources are deployed and managed, as well as the type of workloads they support. A newly published Market Assessment Report from Global Data defines edge computing as the deployment and operation of IT resources – including compute, storage, networking, data management, and analytics – at locations that are geographically closer to data-generating devices and to the end users of digital content and applications.

According to Global Data, edge computing environments will vary considerably in terms of their topography, the size of an edge location, and the type of IT equipment used. Much depends on the use case they are designed to support and the size and type of the IT organization maintaining them. However, although edge computing can be seen as a form of data center decentralization, edge computing environments are not expected to replace central data centers or cloud-based architectures. Instead, they will operate as an additional tier of IT processing, storage, security, and analytics, supporting a number of emerging use cases.

Specific use cases of edge computing include the maintenance of data processing and analytics close to points of collection. The growth and evolution of edge computing is therefore closely associated with the Internet of Things (IoT). The proliferation of enterprise IoT initiatives will drive demand for edge computing solutions and strategies, with the distributed network of connected IoT objects and devices requiring an equally distributed network of edge devices with data processing, analytics, and (in some cases) storage capabilities. The deployment of 5G cellular technologies will be a major stimulus for both IoT and edge computing.

Other use cases include support for applications and services that are sensitive to latency and require high levels of performance; among them are real-time virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and connected car applications. The growth of these and other applications will drive demand for edge IT resources that support data processing, analytics, and content caching at locations that are closer to points of consumption.

Edge computing solutions also offer opportunities for organizations to more effectively manage security and compliance requirements. In some cases, edge IT equipment will operate as an extra layer of defense against security attacks within an organization’s network while, in the case of compliance, an edge computing architecture can be used to keep data within a specific geographical or political region.

IT equipment and solution providers are pursuing a diverse range of approaches to edge computing, with specific solutions already available including dedicated edge servers, IoT gateways, micro data centers, and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solutions for remote office/branch office (ROBO) deployments and remote and outlying locations. Although a rapidly expanding market for edge computing solutions and diverse set of use cases will create opportunities for IT equipment vendors, the success of individual vendors will depend on their ability to articulate a strong and coherent approach towards edge computing, including a transparent set of solutions that prioritize deployment and operational simplicity. Vendors also need to choose between do-it-all and purpose-built products instead of tiptoeing around use cases. Expect to see important progress over the next year among leading IT vendors such as Cisco, IBM, Nutanix, and VMware as they strive to capture this market through new marketing campaigns, investments, and technology innovations.

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