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Embracing distributed Edge Computing to adapt to a new era of technology

Embracing distributed Edge Computing to adapt to a new era of technology

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Edge Computing is a way of storing data closer to the source and is ultimately creating efficiencies for business leaders by improving response times and saving bandwidth. James Petter, International VP, Pure Storage, discusses the importance of Edge Computing and the positive impact its having on technology development.

Edge Computing has been around for a while and as technology evolved and connectivity improved dramatically, we’ve seen use cases and applications in almost every aspect of human life. Distributed Edge Computing is one of the areas where we are seeing accelerated development. Distributed Edge Computing, which is essentially a computing paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed to improve response times and save bandwidth, has many guises – the Internet of Things (IoT), IT/OT convergence etc. – but in its purest form, it’s about how technology can be automated to improve human life. Sensors in the fields that help farmers keep track of the health of their crops, self-driving machines that work 24/7 on mining sites, automated factories that operate round the clock with minimal human supervision, little drones that surgeons can send into your body. The applications are limited only by our imagination.

The Gartner Hype Cycle in 2020 is of the opinion that Edge Computing is approaching the peak of inflated expectation, but I would argue that this is the next important step for technology development and with accelerated rollouts of 5G all around the world, we’re going to see Edge Computing really coming of age this year.

All transformational technologies take place in waves and what we’re seeing this year is the convergence of some really big waves coming together. Arguably, the biggest catalyst is the global pandemic. From a technology perspective, it has led to the biggest shift towards digitalisation that the world has ever seen. Whole industries have been disrupted as businesses race to implement technology that will enable them to survive. We will look back on 2020 as a milestone in humanity’s Digital Transformation.

What this means for infrastructure

What does the CIO or CTO need to think about in order to build IT for their enterprises that can take advantage of distributed Edge Computing. For one, this will create a deluge of data unseen in human history. Where will we store this data? How will we move it? How do we figure out what’s important?

IDC projects that IoT devices alone will generate almost 80ZB of data by 2025, yes Zettabytes. I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Edge Computing will cause a serious rethink about how we architect our data centres. Data centres will need to be physically closer to users and support processing, and decision support applications closer to where the data is generated. Furthermore, these data centres need to be designed to accommodate huge amounts of unstructured data at high speed and will need to be built on cloud-native technologies such as containers and to support a much wider variety of application needs. 

The data gravity challenges that Edge applications create mean that data must be processed at the Edge and across Edge sites – it is simply too costly and prohibitive to move data to a central location. The applications and infrastructure needed to support this must become more distributed in nature – harkening a shift from all application processing in a core cloud, to a core cloud working hand-in-hand with a distributed cloud at the Edge.

This proliferation of smaller yet more agile data centres highlights the need for speed, flexibility and operational simplicity in each location. However, two challenges present themselves. First, these Edge sites are small and there are often thousands of them – so all the data can’t exist in every site. 

New architectures are being built where Edge applications generate, store and interact with data at the Edge, but these Edge sites are tightly-coupled with core data centres where they sync all their data and store less frequently used data. This requires infrastructure to support data access and movement, as well as building and running applications in a much more distributed manner. 

Secondly, Edge applications are also being built differently – generally as microservice applications, so they can easily start/stop/scale as users come and go from the services delivered at the Edge. Because Edge sites are small, every app can’t have its own dedicated servers or storage, they must all share infrastructure. Containerisation helps solve this problem by allowing applications and their storage to easily be spun-up and down, lasting only for the duration that that user or device is accessing a particular cell tower or Edge data centre, and run natively on heterogenous infrastructure that is shared by many Edge applications.

Where we’re heading

We are in an incredibly exciting point of technological development and distributed Edge Computing is taking technology to places previously unreachable by technology, allowing us to change the way we interact with the world. Combined with adjacent technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR), we are moving towards a reality where we can soon let go of our interfaces, keyboards and mouse, and just use our voice or gestures to control our devices.

We are due for another quantum shift in the way we interact with technology and quite frankly, we should all be excited.

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