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Navigating the edge

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Edge computing is experiencing a meteoric rise in popularity, fuelled by ground-breaking advancements in technology such as 5G wireless networking, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as data sovereignty.

As the volume of data generated by connected devices continues to grow exponentially, organisations are recognising the immense potential of edge capabilities to meet network demand, enable digital product and service delivery, and provide enhanced user experiences.

By decentralising data processing and analysis, edge computing brings computation closer to the source of data generation, minimising latency and reducing the burden on central data centres. This results in faster decision-making, improved real-time analytics, and more efficient resource utilisation. However, edge computing comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to making the right choices for physical infrastructure.

This article examines the state of edge computing today and provides guidance on how enterprises can navigate these complexities to make informed decisions for their edge deployments to help ensure a reliable, resilient, secure infrastructure.

Understanding the edge evolution: three types and their opportunities

Vertiv has conducted extensive research over the past few years to help define edge computing archetypes and their specific requirements. We are currently seeing three types of edge computing: Legacy Edge, Geographic Edge, and Dynamic Edge. Each of these is designed to address specific challenges and opportunities in the ever-evolving landscape of digital technology.

Legacy Edge involves the strategic migration of enterprise-owned compute resources to colocation and public cloud facilities. This shift enables organisations to leverage the benefits of a more decentralised infrastructure while maintaining control over their existing IT assets. It is particularly useful for retrofitting legacy applications that cannot be easily ported to the cloud and provides local compute opportunities that are tailored to meet the unique requirements of businesses with established, non-cloud-native applications.

Geographic Edge, on the other hand, focuses on the one-way flow of data from primarily content distribution networks (CDNs). These networks are often found in tier two and three cities with populations between 20,000 and 100,000. By distributing content closer to end users, Geographic Edge helps alleviate network bottlenecks and latency issues, which are common when thousands of people are simultaneously streaming video or accessing other data-intensive services. This edge type enables service providers to improve user experience and overall network performance for customers in these mid-sized communities.

Dynamic Edge, the third type, supports the two-way traffic of data resulting from the explosion of IoT devices and other smart technologies, primarily in urban locations. As the need for real-time processing and analytics increases, Dynamic Edge requires new types of data centre capacity to be deployed closer to end users. This is likely to take the form of prefabricated modular (PFM) infrastructure that offers speed, standardisation, and factory-tested reliability. These solutions not only help reduce latency but also enable efficient scaling and agility in response to fluctuating demand.

Exploring the challenges of edge management

Edge computing offers various benefits, including improved performance and user experience. By placing edge sites near end users, latency and response times are reduced, leading to enhanced productivity, customer satisfaction and competitiveness. Furthermore, processing data closer to the source minimises data transmission distances, reducing bandwidth usage and associated costs. Edge computing also promotes efficient network resource use by alleviating congestion in central data centres.

But the benefits of edge computing don’t come without their own challenges. One of the primary concerns with edge deployments is the need to maintain and manage a large number of geographically dispersed sites, which can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive. Additionally, edge sites often have limited physical security, making them more susceptible to breaches and vandalism, which could lead to costly downtime and data loss.

Another challenge stems from the varying definitions of edge and the diverse range of use cases it encompasses. This can make it difficult for organisations to determine the best approach for their specific needs, leading to potential inefficiencies or suboptimal implementations.

Edge computing demands an increased focus on the physical infrastructure, such as power, cooling and enclosures, which must be carefully considered to ensure reliable performance and longevity. The remote nature of many edge sites also necessitates additional support and protection, which can pose logistical challenges and add complexity to the deployment process.

Key considerations for edge infrastructure?

What can be done to overcome these challenges? It is essential to focus on infrastructure resilience, security and compliance, as well as efficiency and flexibility, in order to create a robust and scalable edge computing environment.

Infrastructure resilience is crucial because edge sites can often be automated, hard to reach, or even run as dark sites. This makes rapid recovery from outages a top priority, especially at remote locations. To ensure resilience, it’s important to implement always-on, always-connected out-of-band management solutions. Secure, remote monitoring, access and control of edge computing environments help maintain uptime and quickly address issues.

Security and compliance are also critical aspects to consider, as the increased number of edge sites and devices can heighten security risks unless managed strategically and consistently. To mitigate these risks, it’s essential to adopt solutions that provide centralised firmware updates, secure access to IT devices, and safeguard KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse) and serial sessions. This ensures that organisations can maintain security and regulatory compliance across their edge infrastructure, reducing the likelihood of breaches or other vulnerabilities.

Efficiency and flexibility are equally important in edge infrastructure, as they enable the ability to adapt and scale as business needs evolve. Companies should consider implementing modular systems that can be easily deployed, customised and scaled to meet the changing needs of edge computing environments. Pre-engineered, fully integrated edge infrastructure solutions are an excellent option, as they streamline deployment and reduce the complexity of managing multiple components.

Additionally, energy efficiency should not be overlooked. Efficient power distribution units (PDUs) and cooling systems can help minimise energy consumption and operational costs. By incorporating these solutions, organisations can ensure that their edge infrastructure is both energy efficient and cost-effective.

A holistic approach to success

As the adoption of edge computing continues to grow, enterprises face the challenge of making the right infrastructure choices for their deployments. However, they must also look beyond the existing issues and opportunities to anticipate and address emerging challenges and trends. This could involve considering the implications of edge computing on network topology and adopting new strategies to accommodate the rapid proliferation of edge devices and applications. The integration of advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, and blockchain can be expected to shape the future of edge infrastructure, bringing forth new solutions that further enhance the benefits of edge computing.

Organisations should also be prepared to adopt a more holistic approach to edge infrastructure management, encompassing not only the technical aspects of deployment but also the environmental, social, and economic considerations. This includes fostering a culture of sustainability, investing in workforce training and development, and engaging in cross-sector collaboration to drive innovation and best practices in edge computing.

By staying ahead of these evolving trends and proactively addressing the complexities of edge infrastructure, organisations can make informed decisions that support the effective implementation of edge computing today and position them for success in the digital landscape of tomorrow.

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