"Edge computing has gone mainstream," says Dave McCarthy, research vice president, of cloud and Edge infrastructure services at IDC.
The analyst firm believes that Edge computing is forecast to hit $208 billion this year, a 13.1 percent jump over the previous year.
"The ability to distribute applications and data to field locations is a key element of most digital transformation initiatives,” he says. “As vendors extend existing feature sets and create new Edge-specific offerings, customers are accelerating their adoption plans."
The expectation is there for Edge to take off, but is the infrastructure in place to support this?
Where does Edge infrastructure stand currently?
Europe is a strong market for Edge, according to nLighten CTO Chad McCarthy, who refers to the historic data center industry, notably the FLAP (Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, and Paris) market, plus Dublin too in recent years.
“In Europe, we have a highly developed data center industry, and historically the FLAP locations were the main data centers content depots,” he says in the DCD panel Infrastructure and the Edge. “That’s where a lot compute still takes place now.
“The network infrastructure is evolving rapidly, so it’s possible to have a far better network service at the Edge, which used to be the big bottleneck, and that opportunity means that industrial companies, commercial companies, and also private users can use data more in remote locations.”
Capgemini chief technology & innovation officer Gunnar Menzel adds that the concept of Edge is nothing new.
“We always talk about Edge like it’s a new development, but it isn’t,” explained Menzel.
“We’re always thinking about where you could locate data, centralized or decentralized. Take retail outlets where you have many stores, you could also argue back in the ‘90s that you had Edge computing in those stores because we couldn't centralize. So it's not a new technology, per se, or a new approach.”
He adds that the ability to connect data better is what has changed, noting faster fiber broadband, and the advancements around satellite communication.
As with many though, he wants Edge to be built out even further to help applications such as the metaverse come to life.
Edge taking longer than hoped
With the Edge slow to find its feet, Steve Pass, argues that the network side is in a strong position to drive Edge opportunities.
Speaking on the same DCD panel, Pass was DataQube CEO at the time of writing, but is now CEO of Iconic Data Centres.
DataQube entered insolvency earlier this summer, as Pass filed with Companies House for a new business in July. That company shows pictures of DataQube racks and claims to "have developed the world’s first podular data centers" - a term DataQube created to describe its modular data center pods. Iconic's website refers to existing internal data center infrastructure, which could have originated from DataQube.
“It seems to be definitely leading and is way ahead when it comes to Edge, bringing that capability closer to users through last-mile, high bandwidth,” said Pass, who says compute is lagging generally.
“So now we've got the capability for the Edge high-speed networks, the use cases are going to drive the need for compute services. I think that will drive a lot of innovation and adoption of new technology over the next few years. People who are going to deploy infrastructure at the Edge are going to have to be able to be very flexible as users start consuming at scale.”
5G’s role in developing the Edge
5G may not be the most common form of mobile connectivity at present, but has grown rapidly since its 2019 launch.
Fast forward to 2023 and the technology is tipped to play a pivotal role in driving Edge applications.
“I think one of the key drivers for Edge is going to be the new private 5G spectrum that is coming across Europe, which is going to make it possible for a lot of enterprises and commercial centers to have their own private 5G networks,” says Open Nebula's senior Edge solutions architect, Alfonso Carrillo.
One such company that specializes in private 5G services is Kyndryl, which was created as a spin-off of IBM's infrastructure services business.
5G is critical to tapping into Edge applications, says Kyndryl SVP US network and Edge, Gretchen Tinnerman.
“I think its critically important because as our clients are investing more in the convergence of IT and OT (operational technology) at the Edge, they're looking for a private network, not a public one,” Tinnerman told DCD.
“Our clients know that these applications and these Edge devices are extremely critical to the infrastructure and require private network connectivity.”
The company has identified the industrial sector as an industry that can benefit massively from private networks and recently worked with Dow Chemicals at a lab plant in Freeport, Texas.
This was driven by Kyndryl’s partnership with Nokia, with the duo combining to deploy a private network with Edge computing.
Implementing a private network at the site has aided the modernization of the Dow plant, as the advanced connectivity has allegedly increased worker safety and enabled remote audio and video collaboration and real-time smart procedures.
Tinnerman says that Kyndryl’s been able to support the connected worker at Dow, thanks to the Edge.
“With Dow, it’s really about the connected worker and taking their challenges which may be a lack of connection and trying to increase connected worker solutions to improve use cases such as safety.
“Our private network has meant that the workforce has been able to access applications right in front of them at the Edge, helping them to improve stability, efficiencies, and safety.”
Dow has stated that within the first four months of its digital transformation, its Freeport plant has been able to reduce the time it takes workers to complete operational tasks, and has completed over 28,000 digital procedures.
Challenges around the Edge
Kyndryl's Tinnerman thinks that the biggest challenge for the Edge right now is the slow adoption rate, which she blames the mindset around change.
“We’ve not seen the acceleration of the adoption rate in this industry with our clients, that many of us integrators and providers thought we would see,” she said.
She adds that there’s a lack of skills, technology, and resources for traditional networks meaning that some can’t support the low-latency applications that would thrive off Edge.
Others point to the pace at which innovation around technology is evolving, noting that it can be difficult to keep up with the trends.
Positive Pass for Edge
For Pass, this innovation is a good thing and will help the Edge sector to kick on, and will push industries to be more cost-efficient, energy-efficient, and sustainability-focused.
“The pace of innovation is going to drive the companies and individuals to move towards Edge,” he says.
“Ok, the pace has been slower than expected with Edge, but I think that's about to change at some point in the near future and it's just going to accelerate from there.”
Pass warns that businesses run the risk of being left behind if they don’t adopt Edge services, networks, and capabilities.
“That could be as simple as managing a farm or a mine or something like that and doing it more cost-effectively to gain a competitive advantage over the competition. It’s an exciting time for the industry.”