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Making the edge fit for SMEs

Simon Michie

Simon Michie

CTO at Pulsant
Image credit: Vasin Lee / Shutterstock.com

For small or medium-sized enterprises, edge computing is a very significant development.

In tandem with the roll-out of high bandwidth 5G connectivity, edge computing will bring advanced SaaS and artificial intelligence (AI) applications within reach of almost every business. It is not 5G alone that enables this – edge computing depends on a network of highly connected edge data centres at strategic locations.

By processing data in an edge infrastructure platform close to where businesses generate it, edge means any organisation can access the full range of advanced new SaaS applications from vendors anywhere in the world. This will open a new world of Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, automation, analytics, content delivery and streaming applications, processing data close to where it is generated for high speed and advanced performance. The use cases cover everything from specialised manufacturing to logistics, fund management and accountancy.

Resolve current cloud-management challenges first

To be fully ready for these advances, however, organisations will need to ensure that edge computing does not complicate what are already becoming unwieldy and increasingly costly hybrid architectures. According to the Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud Report, cloud spending by SMEs increased significantly in 2021 with 53% now spending more than $1.2m – up from 38% in the previous year’s report. Some 80% of organisations now have a hybrid cloud architecture, and 89% use multiple clouds.

This extra cloud investment could be allocated more efficiently by placing workloads where they work best (and at the lowest cost), which would lead to major gains in organisational agility. The reality, however, is too often an efficiency-sapping complexity of management and ever-higher costs, especially for SMEs where IT teams are small.

As organisations spread their data and workloads across different clouds and their own data centres, management difficulties mount. In the Thales 2021 Data Threat Report, only 24% of organisations responding said they fully knew where their data is stored, and according to Flexera, organisations estimate they waste 32% of cloud expenditure. Not entirely surprising when so many businesses expand cloud workloads in response to events or sudden requirements rather than as part of a strategy.

Hybrid architectures should give organisations the agility to thrive in a data-driven world, mixing on-premises data centres, colocation, and cloud. Enterprises of all sizes should have the power to right-size workloads, deploying policy-based and coordinated service provisioning and management. These are capabilities that organisations need to be ready for edge computing. They need to get their hybrid architecture in order – but how to do it when time and expertise are short?

Refurbishing hybrid architecture for the edge 

Companies should start by revisiting what they want from the cloud, reassessing whether their cloud and on-premise environments meet their unique business objectives. They need to understand their current patterns of resource consumption across their entire architecture. For instance, lack of visibility often means IT departments are often unable to calculate the difference between on-premises and cloud costs for the same size of virtual machine (VM).

And in many businesses, there is often poor understanding of where to locate workloads for optimal cost and performance. Workloads with stable performance requirements can, for example, be more cost-effective in a private cloud on a longer-term contract. Architecture also needs to be flexible to cope with peaks and troughs, with the capacity to scale automatically within parameters.

Next-generation cloud management tools

What businesses need, SMEs especially, is a far more effective set of management tools for hybrid architectures. Preferably, they should adopt a next-generation cloud platform that optimises cost and performance regardless of environment, providing control and a transparent view of data, and unifying management across all clouds and on-premise data centres.

These more sophisticated solutions address security and all the management difficulties of hybrid architectures across multiple cloud environments. Organisations regain visibility and control and therefore choose providers and services for the best value. They can deploy, allocate and migrate resources, using a plan they have developed in collaboration with the platform provider.

Just as importantly, these next-generation tools are designed with edge computing in mind, unlike the cloud management platforms provided by the big names in public cloud infrastructure. The next generation of cloud platforms enable IT departments to obtain all the innovation of edge computing while maintaining, controlling, and optimising access to the most sensitive data and workloads wherever they are – including secure locations.

Doing the groundwork

Organisations should prepare with a workload assessment, using best-in-class software to perform a stock-take of an organisation’s entire industry, identifying usage of every server. This will examine different cloud environments and recommend where workloads should go in line with the business objectives of each deployment. Inputs into this process should include the organisation’s expected AI and machine learning needs, requirements for data orchestration, along with specific security and compliance requirements.

Configuration is then accomplished in line with a business’ specific needs, making the different hardware and software elements fully interoperable. Once they have a handle on all their environments and requirements, organisations should also ensure they have maximum flexibility and resilience via cloud on-ramps, such as Megaport, which provides high availability of cloud services and the ability to add or change cloud connections.

Fast fibre connections to the big public cloud providers’ hubs are also important since organisations will still need to use the resources of the hyperscalers. It makes sense to store certain types of data with AWS, Google, or Azure, and of course, to continue using proprietary applications.

A genuine edge infrastructure platform

Businesses must then ensure the edge infrastructure platform they adopt really does have the network of strategically-sited regional data centres and fast connectivity with the major cloud providers’ hubs. It must offer low latency and full route diversity to provide maximum resilience. A genuine edge platform will have an ecosystem of partners and specialist providers from which any newcomer to edge computing will benefit, accelerating implementation and amplifying the benefits.

If businesses approach edge computing with the right partners, they can draft an edge strategy that leaves little to chance, enabling them to understand which use cases will deliver the greatest gains and what is practical to start with. They will achieve the right balance between use of their edge data centre and the hyperscalers. A business should have the freedom to decide where data should be located and how it wants to access it, whether for compliance, latency, or cost reasons.

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