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Feature - 24 March 2020 (ComputerWeekly)

Edge computing environments: what you need to know

The saying goes: “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much space”. And compute itself is now moving to the edge, forcing datacentre operators to wring the last drops of productivity from their infrastructure, ahead of a future supporting multi-sensor internet of things (IoT) devices over 5G for machine learning, and even artificial intelligence (AI).

Jennifer Cooke, research director of cloud-to-edge datacentre trends at IDC, says datacentre operators need to start thinking about how many systems they will need to roll out, and the people they will need to support them. “Cost becomes the prohibitive factor,” she says.

Edge will take different forms. A system to support the operation of autonomous vehicles needs a lot of infrastructure to deliver low-latency levels of responsiveness. Such business cases remain “a little bit” immature – and a long way from current announcements around cloud-in-a-box offerings.

How does Cooke define edge? “A cooling supplier gave this analogy: Lamp posts are not going to be where your dog lifts his leg any more; it’s where all the tech will be,” she says.

Yet datacentres cannot hang back on these investments.“

Forging ahead

Many organisations will need partners to help them. Organisations have a lot of trouble keeping track of stuff on site already – who has touched it, and where the data actually is, who will protect that data, where is the infrastructure? Even more importantly: who will pay for it?” Cooke says.

Russell Poole, UK managing director at Equinix, notes its own survey shows that businesses are forging ahead with investments that support AI, IoT and 5G across the UK, with countering distance-related latency across distributed networks seen as a competitive differentiator.

“Almost half (45%) of businesses in the UK are prioritising moving their infrastructure to the digital edge as part of their organisation’s technology strategy, in turn facilitating interconnection between new and existing partners, and customers around the world,” he says.

Rhonda Ascierto, vice-president of research at the Uptime Institute, says edge may pay off anywhere agility is needed across many distributed machines – from cloud gaming (Jitter, Wag) and augmented reality (AR) to Industry 4.0 and an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

“We are seeing a lot of true local edge capacity in factories of all different types, smart factories, and it’s not that they are retooling completely all their factories at once, it’s generally an iterative process,” she says.

How many times does the data have to hop before it is acted on? Then you need that compute on-premise: the financial justification for a highly instrumented multi-sensor smart factory might be speed and accuracy.

“You really need to have very low latency with that stuff,” says Ascierto.

Operators need not wait for hordes of ultra-low latency customers, though...


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