Even in the midst of a global pandemic, industry analysts predict that edge computing – and complimentary 5G network offerings – will ultimately see significant growth. Grand View Research analysts predict the market for such solutions will grow from $3.5 billion to $43.4 billion by 2027. Major cloud vendors are hard at work deploying more edge servers in local markets and 5G deployments, and spending on 5G capabilities should increase again next year, ABI Research director Dimitris Mavrakis said in a recent webinar.
Edge, a distributed network infrastructure approach, enables data to be processed and analyzed closer to its source. This has significant value for the enterprise, particularly in the areas of Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics.
“For edge devices to be smart, they need to process the data they collect, share timely insights, and if applicable, take appropriate action. Edge computing is the science of having the edge devices do this without the need for the data to be transported to another server environment,” says Red Hat chief technology strategist E.G. Nadhan. “Put another way, edge computing brings the data and the compute closest to the point of interaction.”
[ Why does edge computing matter to IT leaders – and what's next? Learn more about Red Hat's point of view. ]
“The overarching benefit of edge computing today is tied to opportunity,” says Jason Mann, vice president of IoT at SAS. “IT leaders should seize the opportunity to help the business speed up decision making so they can reduce costs, enhance customer engagement, and ensure privacy.”
Key edge computing trends
As edge computing matures into a more practical and potentially game-changing option for enterprise IT organizations, there are a number of trends technology leaders should keep an eye on in the year ahead:
1. The cloud will move to the edge
“For the last decade, cloud service providers have stood behind the message that anything and everything is on a trajectory to the cloud,” says Dave McCarthy, a research director within IDC’s worldwide infrastructure practice who focuses on edge strategies. Hybrid architectures, they offered, were a temporary bridge between on-premise and cloud data centers.
But there’s been a change in plan. The major cloud providers are coming around to the idea that it’s better to distribute workloads to the places where they run best. “Hybrid is no longer a dirty word,” McCarthy says. Cloud service providers are offering solutions that extend on-premise or on-device and are partnering with co-location providers and telecom providers to enable enterprises to deploy applications at the city or neighborhood level.
“For IT organizations that have adopted cloud-native applications, these new services make it easy to overcome the latency challenges that can exist with hyperscale availability zones,” McCarthy says.
[ Get a shareable primer: How to explain edge computing in plain English.]
2. 5G delays are expected
After years of buildup, 5G networking finally arrived as the major wireless carriers launched this fifth generation of wireless connectivity in some U.S. locations last year. There will certainly be a slowdown in further expansion due to COVID-19 restrictions. “IT leaders should be aware of 5G progress,” says Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA, “but architecting solutions that leverage edge computing can happen with the existing infrastructure.”
[ Read also: 5G: Is it time to jump in? ]
3. Next-generation networking will come down to earth
It’s a great advancement, but as many IT leaders will realize, 5G is no silver bullet. “5G extends the platform that applications are built on. In some cases, this will allow creation of new applications, but in many cases, it will simply allow existing applications to work better,” CompTIA’s Robinson says.
The promised two-millisecond latency is fast but may not improve user experience in cases where APIs are still centralized, adds Stephen Blum, CTO and co-founder at PubNub. “[The vast majority of] APIs are centralized in one or two data centers, so these businesses will not gain the benefits of 5G and are missing edge messaging connectivity,” Blum says. Only by adopting data streaming edge messaging solutions or building a network with more geographically distributed access will IT leaders bring their connectivity up to speed with 5G and deliver near-instant communication experiences.
4. Edge will breathe life into all that IoT data
Enterprises have been investing in IoT in search of new business insights. However, “most underestimated the volume of data that connected devices can generate and how hard it is to separate important data from the chaff,” says IDC’s McCarthy.
The cost of transmitting and storing all that data without a clear benefit led many to wonder whether IoT was worth the hype. “That is why the industry is pivoting to edge computing,” McCarthy says. “By processing data closer to the point of generation, it is possible to avoid unnecessary communication and storage costs while simultaneously applying machine learning and AI to identify data patterns that have an impact to the business.”
5. Some proofs of concepts will fail
With many emerging technology solutions, the advice is, start small, fail fast, scale what works. That may not be the best approach for edge. Mann of SAS tells IT leaders to think big from the start. “Edge computing plans and architectures must be developed with operationalizing the entire enterprise in mind. Proof of concept models rarely work,” he says.
On the plus side, he adds, “You don’t have to start from scratch. Capabilities are in place now and ecosystems are already formed to accelerate your efforts.”
6. IT and operational technology (OT) will converge
Historically, companies in the manufacturing, transportation, and oil & gas industries have had completely separate organizations to manage enterprise IT systems and industrial operations. “As these companies look to modernize infrastructure with the goal of implementing predictive maintenance solutions or real-time optimization, cross-functional teams emerged to tie these two worlds together, and edge computing has become the common denominator,” says IDC’s McCarthy.
Companies can combine IT and OT workloads using a software-defined approach and common hardware. The key will be collaboration. “OT engineers build for function and IT engineers build for scale, so it is important for both sides to share perspectives and work towards a common goal,” McCarthy says.
7. Digital transformation fuels edge interest
“Many companies are leveraging new technology to compete in a digital economy, and the massive ripple effects from COVID-19 make these efforts even more critical,” says Robinson of CompTIA. “As companies further digitize their operations and explore new data streams that help inform business decisions, they will be more interested in edge computing as an extension of their cloud model.”
[ Want to learn more about implementing edge computing? Read the blog: How to implement edge infrastructure in a maintainable and scalable way. ]