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Computing Moves to the Network Edge of the Cloud
For all the hype surrounding cloud computing many IT organizations tend to overlook how data will wind up being accessed across what amounts to a massive distributed computing environment. Accessing data stored in the cloud is not going to be practical in many use cases for a whole host of reasons, ranging from latency and security to the cost of transporting massive amounts of data across a wide area network.
Because of these challenges, more computing is starting to be pushed out to the edge as a way to bring code to where data already resides versus incurring all the cost and complexity associated with trying to move data to some central location. In fact, it’s that very issue that is giving rise to software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) that have emerged as both a modern alternative to routers as well as a platform for delivering compute services at the edge of the network.
Currently there are three forms of edge computing that are gaining traction.
- The Customer Edge, in which IT organizations are exposing a variety of IT services to both end users and external customers as part of digital business transformation projects;
- The Mobile Edge, in which carriers are transforming the delivery of 5G networking services via a series of mobile edge computing (MEC) initiatives to create better mobile application experiences; and
- The Virtual Service Edge, in which service providers will deliver a broad range of IT services using advanced analytics.
It may be surprising to discover that many leading enterprise IT organizations are the furthest along in making this transition. GE, for example, is making use of an SD-WAN platform it built using open source software to push users off the corporate network by delivering application services locally. At a recent Open Networking User Group (ONUG) conference, GE CTO Chris Drumgoole told attendees that an internal IT department now remotely manages the locations where those end users work much like a managed service provider.
In a similar vein, Exxon Mobil is making use of SD-WAN at the edge of its network. At the same ONUG conference, Chris Curington, card security and fraud coordinator for Exxon Mobil in North America, described how the energy conglomerate is employing SD-WANs to deliver more customer facing applications to its gas stations.
The good news is that it’s becoming more affordable for IT organizations of all sizes to pursue similar edge computing strategies. Thanks to the rise in platforms from vendors such as Advantech, the programming tools required to invoke all that distributed horsepower are now becoming readily available.
In fact, most of the effort involving Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications are being enabled by edge computing taking place at the local gateway through which an IoT endpoint (usually a sensor) connects. Those sensors typically don’t have much in the way of local compute power. But the gateways they connect to act as a small server for hosting a variety of applications processing data generated by thousands of sensors. Those applications then analyze all the data to optimize a process that inevitably leads to a better customer experience.
While cloud computing represents a significant advance it is really the edge computing phenomenon that will transform every digital experience imaginable.