The rapidly growing demand for edge computing in the UK presents major cloud providers with significant opportunities once they form new strategic partnerships to overcome the latency problem.
Edge computing is all about low latency. It means bringing low latency, high-capacity connectivity to all areas of the country so organisations can use advanced, data-intensive applications, regardless of location. Outside the South East, however, the hyperscalers are currently unable to provide the necessary level of performance because distance increases latency. Threatening their ability to fully participate in the evolution of the edge and to seize its almost limitless array of commercial opportunities.
If, on the other hand, the major vendors forge the right partnerships with vanguard edge platforms that already have a strong regional presence, they stand to reap substantial rewards from a market that Statista predicts will grow to $250bn by 2024.
The UK edge is part of a global trend and will accelerate 5G roll-out
The tide of edge adoption is already flowing in the UK. Research from Aruba in 2020 found 44 percent of UK organisations were using edge technologies to deliver new outcomes and another 21 percent were planning to do so.
Pulsant research among UK IT decision-makers and business leaders shows the pandemic has increased demand for low latency cloud connectivity by accelerating digital transformation in 75 percent of organisations. Businesses are migrating workloads to the cloud and implementing SaaS applications to improve customer experience, deploy automation and increase productivity. Change in data and processing is very much on the agenda. Market intelligence company IDC predicts that by 2024, 80 percent of enterprises will overhaul relationships with infrastructure providers “to better execute their digital strategy for ubiquitous deployment of resources and more autonomous IT operations”.
Hyperscalers are already forming partnerships with telecoms companies
As more organisations understand the significant advantages of processing data workloads at the edge of the cloud, closer to the devices or businesses that generate and use them, the roll-out of 5G is certain to speed up, to supply the need for fast, universal connectivity. Telecommunications companies will therefore play a central role which is why the big public cloud providers are entering into partnerships with them. AWS has, for example, entered partnerships with Verizon and Vodafone, while Google has launched Anthos for Telecom.
With the expansion of 5G coverage, the use cases should grow exponentially. SaaS providers will deliver their solutions more directly, straight through the network. Solution-builders will create apps and orchestrate the network functions and computational infrastructure needed for secure delivery to their end consumers, using network slicing and private 5G where necessary. Edge computing will meet the demand from companies for Industry 4.0 technologies or more seamless, immersive, and personalised customer experiences.
Can hyperscalers overcome the challenges of providing edge computing outside the South East?
The way forward for the hyperscalers now must be to expand their partnerships beyond the telcos and link up with high-speed, high-bandwidth edge data centres in the UK’s regions. This is how they can provide edge computing to their thousands of commercial customers outside the South East.
A list of one of the global cloud providers’ edge locations, for example, shows all seven of its centres and its Cloud Content Delivery Network (CDN), are concentrated in London. Facebook’s analytics data, derived from its servers in the UK, shows 186 miles equates to a millisecond of latency. This is a problem when gaming, automated trading applications, AR, VR and industrial IoT implementations require latency as low as 1ms to 10ms.
Gartner analysts found common business collaboration solutions show reduced performance at latency above 25ms. Unfortunately, the popularity of the hyperscalers also causes access bottlenecks resulting in data-congestion, which is only likely to worsen with the growing adoption of data-intensive applications.
If the major cloud providers do not take steps to resolve these latency problems, they will lose out, as businesses seek alternative vendors with edge capabilities.
The big cloud vendors need more regional points-of-presence
The big cloud vendors need new edge partnerships so they can quickly establish points-of-presence in data centres that are strategically sited around the country. Since success depends on bringing data and processing as close to customers as possible, they should select edge platform providers that have invested in locations that provide geographically ubiquitous coverage of the UK. Then they can provide low latency to customers and end-users as 5G or fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure expands. The more advanced edge platforms are already capable of achieving sub 5ms latency, regardless of location.
Hyperscalers should also ensure their edge computing platforms are linked by high-speed fibre networks, with full route diversity and fast, secure on-ramps to their services. The edge networking approach employed by such platforms spreads the load across several regional data centres, meaning data is processed closer to each end-user, reducing the congestion that undermines performance.
Hybrid and multi-cloud-ready
Forging these new partnerships makes sound commercial sense because existing edge platforms are ideally situated between the on-ramp to the public cloud and network-to-network interfaces. They are also well-equipped to facilitate the trend for hybrid and multi-cloud models which many enterprise customers prefer. It is an approach the major cloud vendors have themselves already started to address with dedicated tools, recognising customers want flexible access to the cost, performance and security advantages of different clouds while maintaining some workloads in on-premises data centres.
The better-prepared edge platforms also give hyperscalers an easy route into the world of software-defined access and its potential for business growth. In many cases, edge data centres are already implementing software-defined networking (SDN) to increase efficiency and performance. SDN on-ramps provide fast and secure access to multi-cloud ecosystems through scalable private networks. This means that essentially, anyone with an SD-WAN solution can access the network. They can make their way around UK locations and find a branch connection to the cloud. A SaaS provider can offer solutions and benefits to clients, irrespective of location, in a way that simply would not have been possible before.
The bottom line is that through edge data centres, businesses can easily employ hyperscale cloud vendors to power their growth, their entry into new markets and delivery of new services to almost anywhere on the planet. At the same time, they can fully benefit from global advances in analytics, AI, machine learning and business application innovation. Businesses will use edge data centres for the data their applications need to process at low latency, while fast and secure connectivity continues to provide them with resilient access to the wealth of data and services in the public cloud.
Edge partnerships must be the future for the major cloud providers
By increasing their presence in the regions through partnerships with purpose-built edge platform providers, hyperscalers will maximise their impact on the UK edge market. They can avail themselves of a vast range of opportunities and the explosion in SaaS applications. This will be vital as businesses shake off the pandemic, demanding faster, more efficient data processing and computing at high capacity and very low latency. Only the edge will achieve this, providing significant revenues for those who get it right. By enlarging their presence in all regions, the hyperscalers will become the pulsating hub of this major evolution of infrastructure, driving new business models and creating new revenues.