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Powering the edge: The perfect storm

Marc Garner, vice president, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, UK & Ireland, outlines how enterprises can reap the rewards of an edge infrastructure, whilst staying ahead of the curve.

Firstly, what is Edge by definition?

The most common agreed definition of the edge is a computing facility geographically dispersed to be physically closer to the point of data origin, processing or use. Edge data centres tend to be smaller highly integrated facilities, which typically meet a demand for low latency, rapid connectivity and availability.

However, the terminology implies that edge is also part of an intricate network ecosystem, a three-tier architecture comprised of localised or on-premise micro data centres, mid-sized regional facilities owned and operated in some cases by colocation providers, and larger ‘Hyperscale’ style campuses occupied by internet giants.

How does an enterprise benefit from an edge infrastructure?

The need for edge arises for several reasons, most importantly to overcome the challenges of latency, application availability and the demand for data in today’s business and consumer environments.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside of a traditional data centre or cloud. Schneider Electric believes there are three key enablers for edge success.

Firstly you need to incorporate greater remote management capabilities. As edge data centres are often dispersed ‘lights out’ facilities, with little or no IT staff, traditional remote management and maintenance can become costly and will lack scalability.

Secondly, greater levels of physical security are required to prevent unauthorised access to IT equipment in edge data centres. This should include, physical environmental monitoring, temperature and humidity sensors, rack access control, and use of both audio and video recording.

Finally, greater standardisation and pre-integration are required to enable rapid deployment of edge infrastructure. As more companies utilise edge in remote or unmanaged locations, it’s important to ensure that the solutions are standardised, repeatable, and work predictably as planned.

This requires greater collaboration between vendors for pre-configured, pre-integrated IT equipment, comprising server, storage, networking and software, in a single enclosure incorporating the rack, UPS, PDU and cooling system.

Although centralised facilities will always have their place, right now, are you seeing a shift from enterprises in favour of edge?

Edge computing complements larger, centralised data centres; it does not replace them. In the context of a wider data network, edge fulfils the requirement of digital services demanded by today’s enterprise and consumer environments.

The retail industry for example, is one of the many sectors driving the adoption of edge and using it to transform the shopping experience. Applications such as ‘magic mirrors’, allow shoppers to “try on” outfits in a virtual environment, before ordering via Connected or Smart-devices. These customers need local and resilient compute, storage and networking, which creates the perfect use case for micro data centres, something pioneered by APC, before the company was acquired by Schneider Electric in 2006.

Edge represents a shift towards the infrastructure best placed to deliver more widely available digital services, not away from the centre. For best practice, edge data centres should be resilient, standardised, repeatable, quick to deploy, easy to manage and maintain.

As edge technology evolves, what can vendors do to evolve with it to ensure they keep pace with customer demand?

Edge technology has evolved in a number of ways, through standardisation, vendor collaboration, reference architectures and use of cloud-based software. One of our key priorities is to give both customers and partners the tools and technology to capitalise on the advancements in edge.

Schneider Electric makes a significant annual investment in R&D to ensure a continual focus on innovation within the critical infrastructure space. We have a team of experts within our Data Centre Science Centre, who focus on research into established and evolving technologies.

Findings are frequently published in APC and Schneider Electric White Papers, and the data gathered from research has been used to create digital TradeOff tools, which are freely available on the Internet.

These include a Local Edge Configurator and a Li-ion vs VRLA capital cost calculator, which customers can use to build and test solutions, or calculate the total cost ownership (TCO) of different technologies over the lifecycle.

Is a collaborative approach from vendors the key to satisfying customer needs?

Collaboration is essential, as no one vendor can specialise or provide everything the modern enterprise needs for optimal IT function. Interoperability between products in hyper-converged stacks is driven by common adherence to industry standards as well as formal vendor alliances to ensure compliance. The recent Uptime data centre survey indicated that customers expect vendors to do the integration work on their behalf – perhaps an indication of the skills shortage being experienced.

Standardisation helps us to deliver faster edge deployments with greater levels of reliability, and when combined with vendor-neutral, cloud-based software solutions such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT, end-users can benefit from increased uptime and reduced maintenance costs.

How can enterprises hope to manage a hybrid cloud/edge architecture whilst still ensuring optimum performance and availability? How has technology evolved to meet these challenges?

Management software has evolved from use of traditional data centre infrastructure management solutions (DCIM), to Cloud-based Data Centre Management as a Service (DMaaS) offers.

Innovative platforms such as EcoStruxure IT provide simplified remote monitoring with real-time visibility of any IoT-enabled infrastructure solution, 24/7, anywhere, on any device.

Combined with the power of predictive analytics and AI, this delivers advanced insights into IT issues, enabling timely and proactive servicing to be performed. Given the dispersed nature of today’s edge and hybrid IT environments, DMaaS becomes critical when ensuring both their reliability and availability.

With regards to li-ion technology and the benefits it brings, given the initial cost, how feasible/accessible is this for your average enterprise?

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) offers many advantages despite being more expensive in terms of cost acquisition. Recent developments in UPS systems are focused on efficiency and reliability. The growing popularity of Li-ion batteries for back-up power, and their ability to withstand thousands of charge cycles, opens up the possibility of reducing power consumption by running the UPS in power-saving mode for longer periods, thereby enabling cost and energy savings.

Their smaller size, long operating life, and tolerance for greater charge/discharge cycles mean they often offer a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) than traditional VRLA alternatives. Furthermore, advances in product development and volume production means that they are becoming more affordable to greater numbers of customers.

Finally, what does the future hold for edge computing? What’s next?

Demand for services requiring edge will only increase. New technologies such as 5G, IoT and autonomous vehicles demand low-latency services, which will undoubtedly provide a stimulus for more edge infrastructure. Here, greater standardisation will unlock innovation for those customers seeking to harness the edge.

From a power perspective, smaller footprint, greater efficiency and higher compute density will require IT and infrastructure manufacturers to collaborate more closely than ever. Integration and interoperability between products are essential requirements for today’s data centre environment.

Finally, cloud-based management software will play a greater role in ensuring the resilience and security of edge facilities, as data and automation proactively influences operating and servicing decision-making.

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