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Will IoT and edge help rebalance the role of the data centre as we know it?


Simon Michie, CTO at Pulsant, explores the impact IoT and edge computing will have on the data centre industry.

By 2030 the number of devices connected to the internet could reach 125 billion according to IHS Markit.

The immense volume of data that will be generated from these IoT devices is unfathomable and organisations are challenged with determining exactly how they will get the maximum value from that data.

Those that can find a way to analyse and use that data in near real-time will be able to refine their competitive edge through faster, more informed decision-making.

There is no universal solution to this challenge, but many organisations are looking to edge computing as the answer.

Edge computing presents them with the opportunity to analyse data faster by locating their processing and storage facilities closer to where it is collected rather than having all processing and storage take place in one centralised location.

How the uptake of edge computing changes the shape of the data centre industry will come down to a variety of purchasing behaviours and technological developments such as:

  • IoT uptake: At the moment the use of IoT is still heavily verticalized and is centred around a few high-potential use cases, such as healthcare, retail and manufacturing.
  • 5G maturity: While 5G brings great promise as its rollout across the UK continues, there is still not widespread coverage to fully support this advancement.
  • Data analytics adoption: In much the same way as IoT, there is the widely accepted attitude that data analytics represents tremendous potential. However, mirroring the uptake and optimisation of IoT, the opportunity around analytics is limited to verticalized applications.
  • Viability of regional colocation for edge: The feasibility of mobilising location-specific edge instances and the ability to spin-up the required compute and edge communications will be dependent on regional data centre locations and mitigating the cost and performance restrictions of public cloud.
  • Customer data lake expansion: The maturation of customer data lakes curated outside of cloud boundaries with the potential to support edge applications before wider consolidated publishing in the cloud.
  • Edge locations: The position of the edge, both in terms of its physical location and architecture, has a high economic weighting in this model and will have a dramatic effect on the outcome.
The potential evolution of data centres and edge

The impact of edge computing on the data centre will depend on the adoption and interplay of the above elements to facilitate the capture, transfer, processing, storage and management of data.

As it stands, there is already a lot of interaction between these factors. However, there would need to be a substantial amount of consistent integration between them to establish a valid business case for an edge instance for IoT.

Many of the dynamics discussed above are approaching the apex or just passing the surge in industry hype of the technology industry’s customer base.

Looking specifically at the last element – location – from a business user point of view, the edge could be anything, from a ship, rig or plane, to a temporary site or event.

From a data centre or colocation provider perspective, making IoT and edge instances work may require more than an infrastructure change, but a shift in mindset as well.

Traditionally these providers have owned or rented facilities in specific locations to serve business hubs and as such have not moved their facilities closer to the customer instance.

Managed service providers might extend their service remotely, but for the data centre provider, it comes down to the economics of location, latency and capacity. In many cases, it is simply hoped that the colocation provider’s infrastructure footprint will do the job.

This might indeed be the case for some specific instances, but this is largely geographic luck and hardly forms the basis of a sustainable edge colocation business model.

This will require the mobilisation of communications and compute in an effective, responsive and economic instance, which in many cases will be time-bound.

A managed service provider that offers a fabric of highly connected data centres geographically distanced but bound together by a high-performance fibre network will be best placed to provide the digital ecosystem that supports IoT and edge instances.

Looking ahead

It is fair to say that the proliferation of IoT and use of edge will have an impact on business overall.

But the degree to which these technologies will affect the data centre and colocation market specifically depends largely on the interplay between a number of elements that will shape the environment.

From getting to grips with new technologies like 5G, to shifting colocation business models, only time and customer behaviour will tell if IoT and resulting data lakes will rebalance the role of the data centre as we know it.

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