Life on the edge
Imagine cloud-computing capabilities and an hi-tech environment functioning at the edge of a network, et voila! we have edge computing. Virtualisation comes closer to mobile users in order to ensure network agility, economy, scalability, and enriching user experience. It helps create an environment that enables seamless access experience for content, services, and applications. The edge is not a standalone product or an offering but an enabler for use-cases characterised by low latency, security, availability, and agility among other things.
A vast number of companies form the ecosystem, ranging from hardware vendors to platform companies to applications developers, System Integrators (SI) and CSPs. Additionally; a couple of emerging players in the ecosystem are the Hyperscale Cloud Providers (HCP) and Operations Technology (OT) vendors. HCPs are in the core business of providing cloud infrastructure and platforms, and OT vendors provide IoT platforms and applications, supported by edge computing components.
Barriers to establishing edge
With the potential to benefit a wide variety of users across industrial, enterprise, and retail consumer environments, edge computing also presents a number of challenges in terms of how the ecosystem is built, deployed and managed. Edge sites are often difficult to manage owing to their distributed nature and the growing number of deployments, and hence, the ability to ensure low service and maintenance costs. The edge computing ecosystem is vast and is evolving rapidly. Many organizations and companies are making huge investments to specify the technology and define solutions. With such proliferation comes the risk of market fragmentation leading to slower adoption of services. Thus it is imperative that the industry explore measures to consolidate and prevent fragmentation by making sure that the focal point of differentiation is through services.
Where is the edge?
Industrial collaboration initiatives (5GAA, AECC, 5G-ACIA, and IIC among many others) have been busy defining the overall scope of edge computing while tailoring it to serve specific needs such as inter-vehicular communications, industrial automation, Cloud AR/VR/XR, etc. Based on the many frameworks that have emerged as a result, edge could mean deployment at any of the following locations viz. Customer premise equipment (Homes, Stadiums, Office Complexes), RAN-edge (Existing Telco infrastructure, Cell Towers), and Existing Data Centre infrastructures (Not optimal for edge deployments).
4 essential characteristics for relevant edge ecosystems
Having so far explored the highlight challenges and key considerations to edge deployments, let us now turn to the characteristics that make edge solutions faster to deploy, more resilient, and cost-effective for customers:
- easy-integrable and collaborative approach within the vendor ecosystem
- rule-based configuration tools for hassle-free deployment
- reference designs for optimising output at the edge
- cloud-based management software
4 potential edge deployment strategies
Based on individual enterprise strategy, the use cases addressed and the underlying business case, edge providers can assume a variety of roles in the value chain. The roles are categorized based on whether they want to build edge infrastructure and whether they want to front the enterprise[i]. Depending on the industry vertical, position in the market and similar factor, one can assume a single or a combination of the aforementioned roles as part of the strategy.
The End to end edge provider provides edge infrastructure and potentially platform. They have a strong relationship with the enterprise or the application developer/provider, primarily through partnerships with clients, for example OT vendors and platform vendors.
They provide connectivity, resell HCP and OT vendor infrastructure and platform, and can also host their edge stack. Partner Edge Providers have a strong relationship with the enterprise, especially for edge use cases strongly linked to capabilities such as connectivity.
These are edge hardware providers. Aggregators provide infrastructure software and deployment platform as-a-service and have binding commitments towards the application development ecosystem.
Niche Edge provider
Niche providers are focused on limited but core capabilities such as connectivity and co-location. Other capabilities can be extended depending on their relationships with enterprises. HCP, OT vendors and SI companies have horizontal and industry vertical capabilities and strong GTM. They front enterprises for most of their needs, including edge infrastructure and platform.
Typically, large technology companies with adequate resources would do well as End-to-end providers as well as Partners purely riding on the strength of their full stack capabilities, relationships and R&D prowess. Mid-sized technology/service companies would do well leveraging their service capabilities with large tech-firms to provide skilled yet affordable resources for the ecosystem. Tech-startups would find prospective business opportunities as niche providers or as aggregators through their very specific technology capability as well as ecosystem partnerships with larger/more established firms
Edge Computing is a key technology, supporting innovative services for a wide ecosystem of companies. In fact, all stakeholder categories are essential to the success of edge ecosystem, and their engagement depends also on the way the various challenges are addressed.
As Edge Computing brings cloud computing closer to the users at the infrastructure edge, in the future, Edge Computing is likely to expand deeper into the edge and client devices in a distributed manner. Such approaches will leverage the increasing processing and storage capabilities at client devices towards reducing latency beyond what current Edge Computing can provide.
[i] Fronting the enterprise extends beyond the relationship for connectivity, to influence the enterprise choice of edge deployment setup.