Bridging The Edge Knowledge Gap


There’s a lot of hype and hyperbole around Edge Computing right now.

But in my view, less effort is being expended to really analyse and predict the details of the specific infrastructure and business models that edge will produce.  This has led to a knowledge gap of sorts with customers and partners pushing technology suppliers like Vertiv to define our edge intent in more detail.

For example, what specific types of data centre infrastructure will be needed to support the massive predicted growth around the Internet of Things? That could be anything up to 23 billion new devices by 2021 according to some estimates.

And these ‘things’ will likely have different requirements in terms of bandwidth, latency and resiliency. If a self-driving car or drone does not have access to critical data at the right time the results could be disastrous.

Partly to help address that edge knowledge gap, Vertiv held its first EMEA Innovation Summit in Zagreb on 16th and 17th April. The summit was a great chance to meet and speak with customers, partners as well as journalists and consultants and listen to different opinions on edge and all its expected permutations.

For example, one of the questions raised during a round table with journalists was about whether edge is really a new phenomenon or simply a re-branding exercise for existing branch office computing or content distribution networks?

I can understand that view, but I think edge as it is being defined now is most definitely something new and on a different scale to anything that we have seen before.

True, we have infrastructure - such as our range of prefabricated modular data centres manufactured outside of Zagreb - which predate the current focus on edge. But we are also already seeing demand for those systems in a range of new edge deployments.

So while there is certainly a ‘legacy edge’, there will also be a large number of clearly distinct and disruptive use cases which we believe will proliferate well beyond any preexisting notions of edge.  

At the summit there was also a lot of discussion around ownership models for edge computing infrastructure. Will investment come from colocation providers, cloud operators or telcos or perhaps from a new breed of dedicated edge service providers? The companies that own mobile and wireless towers – so called towercos – are also likely to play a pivotal role; the eventual commercial roll-out of 5G is also expected to drive a whole raft of new business models.  

Other questions centred on what sort of specific data centre capacity will be needed and where. Will new edge capacity be dominated by micro data centres in cell tower sites or will larger metro facilities or even new cloud hyperscale capacity be needed?

Fortunately, at Vertiv we’ve been asking ourselves a lot of the same questions over the last 12 months which has culminated in a formal edge research project. A report based on those findings was released at the summit.

The research sets out in more detail what edge really means in terms of specific use cases. Edge covers a whole host of different technologies and IT workloads – we identified more than 100 during the research –  from high definition content delivery to smart homes and smart grids. That presents a wide spread of potential opportunities but also a lot of complexity. To help navigate through that complexity, the report categorised those edge use cases into four key archetypes:

  • Data Intensive
  • Human-Latency Sensitive
  • Machine-to-Machine Latency Sensitive
  • Life Critical

I will not dwell on the specifics of those archetypes as they are discussed in detail in the report. However, I think the fact that Vertiv has invested time and resource to analyse these edge use cases in depth and develop the archetypes is testament to our commitment to this space.

We don’t profess to have filled that edge knowledge gap – no one has – but we are continuing to invest in research as well as building out our edge technology roadmap. The research initiative that identified the archetypes is an ongoing commitment and we expect to publish more findings soon.

The aim is to make sure we’re as well positioned as possible to support our customers and partners as more edge use cases and business models mature and flourish.

This article has been originally published by Giordano Albertazzi, Vertiv EMEA President, on LinkedIn