THE ‘EDGE’ IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS THE NEXT FRONTIER FOR DATA CENTRE ARCHITECTURE. WHAT IS ‘EDGE’ / HOW WILL IT APPLY TO YOUR BUSINESS?
We ask Penny Jones, Research Director for Multi-tenant Datacenters and Services EMEA at 451 Research, for her thoughts on the topic.
What does it mean when an organization refers to the ‘edge’?
The edge can mean many things. In principal, the concept is the renaissance of the old model of decentralized, distributed IT which we moved away from as operators found efficiency through operation of larger-scale facilities and consolidated their data centre footprint. Now, companies are seeking to leverage new services such as the Internet of Things, or they want to provide better consumer services and push out or pull data in from mobile devices with agility and speed. This can lead to high amounts of data growth and create new bottlenecks in the network. The current concept of ‘edge’ is now based, as a result, around the need to limit latency, to reduce network congestion.
The edge is also the physical point where data is integrated, so where connectivity takes place – carrier neutral, or carrier-specific connectivity services, for example such as cross connects, cloud exchanges/direct connects, even peering platforms. It can also be a telecommunications gateway – the entry or access point for local networks, WAN and to cloud computing and other IT service environments.
One additional benefit that’s been realized is a function that ‘edge’ can play in allowing for data residency requirements. For example, a company may have its main IT presence in London, in a large data centre, but require a much smaller presence in Frankfurt for data sovereignty requirements. For this company, Frankfurt may be its ‘edge’ regardless of the type of data centre its estate is located in or its workload purpose. For many companies, the IT edge can mean different things, it can be a micromodular data centre on the factory floor, a rack in the office, or increasingly an intermediary between local and national resources that helps shorten the route to heavily used resources, while providing better access to services on demand.
How will enterprises and service providers use the ‘edge’?
Ideally, the edge will bring greater performance through proximity to services, the business, or customers, and lower risk though private or fewer connections as well as efficiency by taking capacity closer to the user. In colocation, the edge can be a data centre that provides access to a new or existing market that is not the core location for business, or it could where an organization can connect to a range of cloud or other service providers (maybe financial services ecosystems, content hubs etc).
When thinking about edge, you need to consider a mesh of services divided between core data centre estates,where greater control may be required over IT for security or regulatory purposes, or where efficiency gains can be made on the data centre floor), connectivity-rich colocation facilities that can provide edge through proximity to a large population base or to networks and service ecosystems and cell towers, or smart buildings where micromodular data centres and servers can be housed for the purpose of more local service delivery. We refer to these cell tower sites as the ‘true’ edge, while many carrier-dense retail colocation providers will offer connectivity environments referred to as the ‘near edge.’
The trick to the edge, is it is all about performance and latency, so it will have very few network paths or ‘hops’ and little or no use of shared communications infrastructure – inside the colocated data centre this could be cross connects, for example, to your hyperscale cloud provider, or others with a presence inside the facility.
How can you prepare for a perfect ‘edge’ deployment?
Edge strategies require the organization to think carefully about the best execution venue for all workloads and applications need to live for performance, and cost efficiency, and what managed services, cloud services and otherwise might be required.
Consideration also needs to be given to the network – what security requirements do these workloads, applications have, what backup and business continuity needs, what access controls are needed. Devising an edge strategy where working with an existing architecture and existing applications will require careful considerationof the organization’s needs and reliance upon these applications and workloads, and an understanding of the role these play in the business.
What role does the colocation provider play at the 'edge'?
Carrier-neutral colocation facilities will play an incredibly important part in enabling edge strategies. They may not provide micro modular data centres on the factory or office floor, but they can provide what we call ‘near-edge’ services.
Near-edge services cater to the ‘zone’ where performance and security have been architected to securely process, analyse, store and forward larger amounts of data. They also help those doing edge deployments to connect to other applications and data sources, without going back to a centralized cloud service, enhancing the performance and service delivery.
Smaller data centresclose to end users can be used as edge locations, or secondary locations for a customer. This is especially relevant for cloud service providers, which will have full data centre capabilities in one facility and a smaller site close to the edge of the customer’s network.
Carrier-neutral colocation facilities also offer potential cost benefits over fully distributed edge environments, with one or more aggregation devices at an interconnect as opposed to hundreds or thousands or smaller devices for those enterprises wanting to do ‘edge’ on a less distributed scale. Savvy colocation providers are now tethering their sites, taking on a core and edge strategic approach with edge data centres being located in highly populated metropolitan areas and core facilities being in lower cost, less connectivity dense locations outside of the metro, so customers can take advantage of lower cost storage or analysis environments.
In time, we expect these near edge data centres will become the telecom gateways for the true edge data centres – the wireless towers, for eg, or IoT or telecom gateways, as congestion at the edge occurs. And they will also provide valuable backup options for times when the true edge goes down.