Why edge computing offers immense opportunity
The rising demand for ultra-high-speed networks, coupled with several new-age use cases such as telehealth, immersive learning and online gaming are propelling telcos to rework their urban networks. Further, as telcos stand at the cusp of 5G adoption, it is time for them to own the edge and reimagine metro and edge network architecture. Ciena India’s Ryan Perera discusses the transformation towards edge networks, how service providers are enabling this transformation, and the way forward…
What factors are leading to the shift towards edge networking?
The cloud has become an all-pervasive means to deliver both business and personal communication services to users. However, most applications have been dependent on large, centralised data centre and cloud architectures to deliver such services. As our dependency on such cloud-based services grows, along with the need for near-real-time, low-latency connectivity, the traditional hub-and-spoke model fails to deliver. Applications are increasingly highly latency intensive, making it challenging for a distant central data centre to deliver on expectations. This calls for physical data centres to move closer to where content is both created and consumed.
How will this shift transform the network architecture in urban areas?
With the exponential rise in data generated by smartphones, cameras, internet of things (IoT) and other connected devices, centralised data centres are under tremendous strain. To deliver the quality of experience that end-users, humans and machines expect today, data centres must be physically located closer to them. This becomes challenging in an urban set-up where prohibitive real estate costs make it difficult to set up large-scale data centres. Edge data centres are miniaturised versions of centralised data centres and require far less equipment, power, and space requirements, making them easier to deploy at the network edge, closer to end-users. However, smaller edge data centres are not intended to replace large centralised data centres. Rather, they will complement each other with some data being processed at the edge and some at the core.
Communication service providers (CSPs) must focus on building a meaningful business and technical edge strategy to get the network edge-ready. Rather than just thinking about the right equipment to buy, the edge strategy should consider why you actually need edge computing.
What changes do service providers need to make their networks edge-ready?
Communication service providers (CSPs) must focus on building a meaningful business and technical edge strategy to get the network edge-ready. Rather than just thinking about the right equipment to buy, the edge strategy should consider why you actually need edge computing. Being able to clearly define the technical and business problems that CSPs are trying to solve is an essential part of this exercise – are network constraints the biggest challenge, is it data sovereignty, or is it about reducing your centralised data centre footprint?
Once these and other questions are answered, CSPs can move towards implementation and then start investigating and evaluating available hardware, software and service options. The criteria to consider include cost, performance, features, security, interoperability and support.
It is important to keep in mind the need for comprehensive monitoring and analytics-based automation. Sending engineers to physically inspect edge data centres is not fiscally prudent or sustainable. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the architecture provides for resilience, fault tolerance and self-healing capabilities.
Software tools deployed for edge cloud must include monitoring capabilities, providing a comprehensive overview of remote deployments; enable easy provisioning and configuration; offer comprehensive alerting and reporting; and maintain the security of the installation and its data.
What new services and use cases will service providers be able to offer to their customers with edge networking? Does it allow them to add new revenue streams?
The past couple of years have witnessed the emergence of several new applications that are bandwidth and low-latency dependent, including streaming video or content delivery, cashier-less retail stores, autonomous driving, industrial IoT and cloud gaming.
Each of these applications requires near real-time latency. Being able to deliver such a high level of service also presents CSPs with new revenue opportunities. This new generation of applications also favours the emergence of new business models where everyone has a role to play – mobile and wireline network operators, cloud providers, neutral hosts, data centre providers, system integrators, and vendors.
What must service providers do to maximise the benefits from this shift?
Edge computing presents CSPs with immense opportunity not just to improve existing business models but to also enter the enterprise space that has been traditionally dominated by IT systems integrators. For instance, CSPs can bundle IoT services with other enterprise offerings such as private networks. Enterprises do not see CSPs as natural providers of enterprise-centric solutions such as factory automation. Therefore, to become part of an enterprise’s consideration, CSPs must adopt go-to-market strategies including selling edge solutions targeted to meet the specialised requirements of various industry verticals.