Today we continue our Data Center Executive Roundtable, a quarterly feature showcasing the insights of thought leaders on the state of the data center industry, and where it is headed. In today’s discussion, our panel of experienced data center executives – Corey Dyer from Digital Realty, Sabey Data Centers’ Tim Mirick, Ted Behrens of Chatsworth Products, Phillip Marangella of EdgeConneX, John Hewitt of Vertiv and Steven Lim of RagingWire/NTT Global Data Centers – discuss the year ahead may hold for the edge computing sector.
The conversation is moderated by Rich Miller, the founder and editor of Data Center Frontier.
Data Center Frontier: There’s been intense interest in edge computing, a trend which spans multiple technologies, scenarios and use cases. How would you assess the current state of edge computing, and what developments lie ahead in 2020?
Phillip Marangella: Even though we’ve been a pioneer in building out the edge for service providers for many years, it’s still very early days. The need for more distributed architectures to reduce latency, improve performance and reduce costs was first driven by content. Then, came the cloud. Both of those sectors continue to deploy more and more at the edge, but the next wave that will drive a pervasive need for the edge will be things like AI & machine learning, autonomous vehicles, VR/AR, 5G, and IoT.
All of these will generate so much data and network traffic that it will create bottlenecks in the internet and that’s why having edge data centers help alleviate those bottlenecks and in turn re-architect the internet to support the flood of data and massive traffic flows at the edge.
John Hewitt: This is a massive change spanning all aspects of the data center industry. It will not slow down anytime soon, in no small part because 5G is going to launch another phase of edge deployments designed specifically to support 5G networks and the services they enable.
This move to the edge is triggering adjacent changes in the data center. For example, we are seeing and will continue to see increased interest in integrated, often prefabricated solutions that are easier and faster to deploy and simpler to operate. As 5G networks expand and more of those advanced applications enter the mainstream, we’ll see high-performance, high-density computing at the edge, and that will present new challenges for organizations deploying those edge resources.
Ted Behrens: While it remains very early in what the manifestation of edge computing looks like, there will almost certainly be key infrastructure elements that need to be addressed. Equipment support and security, remote management and thermal efficiencies will have to be solved regardless of the scale at the edge or the core IT technology that will be deployed.
I would expect the generic term of edge to be further segregated into key applications that will begin to define how the industry delivers data more resiliently and faster. Also important will be the growing need for cross-functional teams to synchronize their specific expertise to support remote, unattended sites.
Corey Dyer: Gone are the days of choosing a data center just because it’s close to your company’s headquarters. Companies are now operating globally, across multiple areas with many different data centers, which is causing IT architecture needs to be pushed out beyond traditional cloud and data centers and to the edge. The demands of low latency, reduced backhaul network loading and overall higher performance requirements are also driving the need for new, highly-local tier of internet infrastructure enabled by edge data centers. The benefit of the edge is that dedicated resources are closer to end users and devices, which frees up core architecture and valuable network assets for other mission-critical tasks, while also decreasing latency and increasing speed.
However, while some workloads perform better at the edge, it doesn’t mean that all workloads should be moved to the edge; some should still remain at the core. For example, intensive technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) are being pushed to the edge, but they also often require efficient access to core resources in order to function effectively. Data centers can handle heavy computing and storing large amounts of data that the edge cannot, and so the edge and core need to be thought of as complementary to each other.
Digital business will need to develop an enterprise network architecture that is localized at global points of business presence, consolidates traffic flows and end point management, and is interconnected in network hubs. Businesses will have reduced latency and increased throughput to handle the high volume of workflows. This strategy also brings users, systems, and the network to the data, which removes barriers of data gravity and creates centers of data exchange to scale digital business.
“This is a massive change spanning all aspects of the data center industry. ”
John Hewitt, Vertiv
We actually recently announced an edge alliance with Vapor IO for their Kinetic Edge Exchange (KEX), the world’s first software-defined systems for interconnection in edge locations, to help businesses take advantage of the edge. KEX will be deployed in our centers of data exchange campuses, making possible new distributed workflows spanning from core to edge to scale digital business.
In 2020, advances in SDN, 5G and other networking technologies will also continue to shape the role of edge computing. Businesses will have more flexibility to position their assets where they’re needed most and will take advantage of emerging technologies in the cloud. That will further transform the edge-to-core landscape and many large cloud providers will be focused on building applications and cutting-edge services to address the edge.
Steven Lim: There is no question that the demand for edge computing, as well as state-of-the-art data center colocation facilities, will increase as more data is created. These needs will be driven by technology including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, machine learning, 5G wireless, and so on. Some other thoughts about where edge computing is headed in 2020:
- Edge deployments are moving closer to cell services — The increased interest in edge computing seems to be coinciding with deployments near cell networks. Many companies are trying to put micro data centers at the base of cell towers, since cell service is really data and text more than voice these days, so that trend is driving more interest in edge computing.
- Security must be tighter than ever at the edge – The rise of edge computing to handle more IOT applications does come with some points of concern however. As Forrester points out in its “Predictions 2020” document, “The adoption of emerging technologies like the internet of things is creating a larger attack surface that’s often built with only a few security controls, exposing enterprises in never-before-seen ways.”
- A strong core will still be essential – Even with a surge in edge deployments (which we may see more of in smart cities deployments), the core data center is where the heavy lifting resides, and will continue to be so in our estimation.
Tim Mirick: I believe most of the edge growth in the next year will be focused in traditional urban data centers as applications, such as streaming gaming, work to improve the customer experience and get closer to consumers.
The big changes that will affect how we think about the form factor of the edge facility will come with the roll out of 5G at scale and the opportunities it will create for developers with its enhanced bandwidth. However, the rollout of physical infrastructure takes time and we will just be getting started in the next year.
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