For many years, the data centre industry has been engaged in a deep discussion on the concept of edge computing. Yet the definition varies from vendor to vendor and from customer to customer, creating not only mass confusion, but a fixed mindset in terms of solutions design.
One might argue that through its lack of a true definition, the subjective nature of the edge has led the industry down an often singular path, where edge technologies have been designed to hypothetically meet the customers’ needs, but without the application in mind.
IDC defines the edge as the multiform space between physical endpoints such as sensors and the ‘core’, or the physical infrastructure – the servers, storage and compute – within cloud locations and data centres. Yet within more traditional or conservative sectors, some customers are yet to truly understand how the edge relates to them, meaning the discussion needs to change, and fast.
Defining the edge
When the trend of edge computing began to gain traction, the Infrastructure Masons were one of the first to try and define it. But even they recognised its largely subjective nature was beginning to cause market confusion, and stated that a widely accepted definition would become more essential as the industry began to confront the challenges that will arise at the edge.
What’s clear is that the business case for edge technologies is becoming more prevalent, and according to Gartner, “by 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data centre or cloud.” All this data invariably needs a home and depending on the type of data that is stored, whether it’s business or mission-critical, the design and location of the infrastructure will undoubtedly need to vary.
One size fits all?
Today in our industry, there’s a very real danger that, when it comes to the edge, many end-users will be sold infrastructure defined by the manufacturer and not based on the customer’s needs. And that’s because edge solutions are often found in one size, type or variable form factor. This creates a market whereby potential customers are persuaded that ‘one size fits all’, and that’s a far cry from the modular and agile approach that the industry has turned towards in recent years.
The reality is that the edge has almost as many definitions as there are organisations trying to define it. And, while there are a range of well-defined and well-understood edge applications already in use such as micro data centres in retail locations, localised infrastructure providing low latency content delivery to avid viewers, there are many edge applications yet to be fully understood, defined or implemented.
Many existing edge applications remain unpredictable in terms of their data centre and IT resources. And often local infrastructure is required to support the continued roll-out of a service looking to scale.
In summary, most, if not all, organisations are faced with making frequent decisions about the best place to build, or access, edge infrastructure resources. And in today’s dynamic, digital world such decisions need to focus on the customer’s business requirements, providing them with a flexible, agile and optimised architecture that’s truly fit-for-purpose.
Finding flexible solutions
A standard-size container or micro data centre might be far too big for the business’ needs – but the assumption is that maybe the user will grow into it. And then there’s the question of customisation. What if the solution needs to be liquid-immersion cooling enabled for GPU-intensive computing at the edge? Not every micro data centre architecture can be built for that technology, and certainly not if the customer needs to scale quickly.
There’s a question of cost. Micro data centres in standard form factors, or pre-integrated systems, often contain CAPEX-intensive server and storage technologies from manufacturers defined by the vendor. This, again, is a far cry from a solution that is defined to meet the business needs.
In our industry, relationships are everything, and one must acknowledge that customers will want to specify power, cooling and IT infrastructure from their own choice of suppliers, and at a cost that meets their budgetary requirements.
At Subzero Engineering, we believe customers need a solution that supports their business criterion, and one that helps them capitalise on the emerging opportunities of the edge. What’s more, we believe that containerised edge data centres, which are optimised for the application, built ready to scale and vendor-neutral for any type of infrastructure, are those that can truly meet the needs of the end-user.
What’s clear is that with the advent of edge computing, the customer needs to define their edge. And as design and build consultants, our goal must be to support their needs with flexible, mission-critical solutions.