Across IT, practitioners and providers alike continue to grapple with clarity around what qualifies as “edge” infrastructure. But ultimately, the goals are the same: lower latency and greater resiliency for applications.
Recent innovation within the industry has revealed a trifecta of distinct elements—edge computing, edge networking, and edge data management—that make up the building blocks of a successful edge computing strategy. Understanding the differences between each element and how they work together will enable IT teams to unlock the true promise of edge.
What is edge computing?
Edge computing is best described as the ability to move dynamic computation to the edges of the internet and closer to users and machines that require the compute and processing power. Guided by trends such as IoT and 5G, telecom providers have led the charge, as they already had the footprint necessary to support it. Adding micro data centers and teaming up with cloud providers enabled telecom companies to bring processing from centralized on-premise or cloud data centers out to the edge.
The push for edge computing was driven by the need to improve application performance and optimize server resources; however, adoption has presented challenges. Building an application that exists across a highly distributed edge compute footprint is different from building one that operates from one or two data centers. And for many years, few tools existed to make this scalable and repeatable.
Recently, containers and serverless infrastructure have made edge compute more accessible. Some companies now run their workloads across globally distributed Kubernetes clusters or across serverless functions inside service provider environments. For instance, a gaming company may leverage different cloud resources or content delivery networks to ensure the best performance for those regions. Or it may choose to spin up a workload in a co-located facility in a specific region or country to support elevated capacity during the launch of a new game.
However, many challenges remain, such as data synchronization, distributed fleet management, global traffic and workload orchestration, and more.
What is edge networking?
Edge networking is quickly becoming a more mainstream focus of infrastructure investment as employees and end users become more distributed and dynamic in their geography and connectivity. While edge computing focuses on moving processing and computing closer to users, edge networking encompasses all aspects of connectivity—everything that connects applications to audiences—with a focus on routing data and network traffic in a more optimized way across distributed footprints.
What is important is the successful distribution of the application workloads, which makes applications more performant and resilient and organizations less reliant on individual data centers, or cloud or CDN providers. Teams use application traffic steering policies to direct and balance real-time workloads appropriately between resources as conditions and demand shift in dynamic and distributed infrastructure footprints.
Edge networks can also be achieved across distributed physical infrastructure, including branch offices or campuses. Retail is a great example: these companies want to optimize the footprint of equipment in their shops to improve usability while minimizing the need for additional infrastructure. The primary mechanism to achieve success is the same—scalable distributed network management and optimizations for connecting application resources effectively across the fleet.
What is edge data management?
Although significant advancements have been made at the edge, another challenge remains—the matter of data gravity and mobility.
For a company with a heavy database and code running in hundreds of places around the world, optimizing data mobility is crucial. Teams often struggle to move the portions of that database that are most relevant to the right locations at a specific point in time, so that latency is minimized, but data isn’t constantly in transit. They must determine the minimum set of places that this dataset could live to maximize performance but minimize the overhead of distributing data across a global footprint.
Addressing this massive challenge will increasingly become a focus to unlock scalable innovation at the edge.
Integration of edge components yields the greatest success
IT leaders should have a clear understanding of each of the edge building blocks as new trends, such as supporting a distributed workforce and increased demand for online services, push businesses to consider improvements in connectivity for both employees and customers.
Edge computing solves for distributing placement of code (computing workloads), while edge networking connects a user with the right code and the right data at the right time to optimize performance, reliability, and security. Edge data management addresses the challenge of managing massive data sets across globally distributed footprints. When successfully integrated, companies will discover huge benefits.
For example, industry leaders, such as content providers like Netflix or collaboration technology companies like Dropbox, have successfully built their own edge networks by combining distributed edge compute footprints with edge networking and data management strategies. They have made significant investments in technologies that intelligently orchestrate their application traffic and automate the life cycles of the resources that support it. They are able to ramp up and control capacity close to their audiences to ensure a reliable, superior user experience.
The advantages of shaving milliseconds of latency and instantaneously addressing performance fluctuations have prompted gaming start-ups to join the fray. Many have built highly performant edge networks that use software-defined networking to intelligently steer traffic on a packet-by-packet basis.
Finely tuned latency advantages of an edge network enable medical diagnostic tools to work quickly for the best results, speeding up treatments and diagnoses; to allow healthcare IoT devices to generate and process vast volumes of data; and to support network speeds so doctors can engage remotely with patients, even performing robotic surgeries from a distance, without fear of internet interruptions or lag time.
Industry practitioners can expect investment and innovation in this space to continue growing with a focus on new platforms that provide foundational services that enable IT teams to build and maintain highly distributed, edge-enabled networks and applications. And as edge technologies multiply and become more accessible, companies everywhere will be empowered to unlock the promise of edge footprints for more performant, reliable, secure applications.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kris Beevers is CEO at NS1