Taking the Cloud Concept to the Edge

The combination of dispersed working and the exponential growth of IoT devices is changing the working landscape. As businesses require more reliable and faster access to data and applications, many have adopted cloud computing architectures, where data is processed in a centralised location such as a data centre. The adoption of public cloud services such as AWS and Microsoft Azure have typically enabled organisations to benefit from agility, efficiency, and enhanced security. Edge computing takes the basic principles of cloud access and transforms it for the new age.

However, user expectations for rapid performance are growing, regardless of location, which is changing infrastructure requirements. While the public cloud is still a crucial piece of the puzzle, the diverse working practices of today are leading to the deployment of multiple clouds to support multiple locations, thereby creating a need for applications to sync and interact much more rapidly. Centralised models lack sufficient speed, creating network latency issues. Businesses, therefore, need a solution that keeps latency as low as possible, particularly with the evolution of IoT and 5G, which will facilitate new applications that place greater strain at the point of use. 

Rather than centralised connectivity via a data centre, the edge is focused on decentralised strategies which enable important data, applications and content to be processed and managed closer to the end-user. Crucially, this allows for faster access and lower latency, meaning higher productivity and efficiency and support for emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning. Additionally, sensitive data is able to be processed locally, separate from the cloud, and sovereignty of data that needs to remain in the UK can be ensured.

However, while the cloud market and available services have been long established, many regional enterprises and service providers are still unsure of how to access the edge opportunity.

The role of edge computing

With the cost of public cloud escalating, an increasing number of organisations are turning to multi-cloud, where multiple services are utilised in a single architecture, or hybrid cloud environments, which allows data and applications to be shared between both public and private clouds. 

An interesting concept when looking through the lens of a hybrid cloud setup is the tendency for some workloads to run in the public cloud and others to be hosted in local data centres for security or privacy reasons. This, in effect, allows data processing to take place in data centres closer to the end-user than centralised cloud locations. While bringing workloads closer to users is not the typical reason for a business choosing a hybrid cloud solution, this same concept applies to the edge and how it fundamentally works.

But while the benefits of edge are clear, many businesses don’t know how to implement it within their business and are constrained by concerns over cost, complexity and access. So how can organisations make the edge a reality?

Connecting the nation

When it comes to accessing the edge opportunity, businesses will only realise the benefits if the right national edge infrastructure is in place. What is needed is a grid-like architecture to enable data to be processed close to edge devices and bridge the gap between centralised platforms and micro-edge.

The development of a nationwide edge computing platform will be fundamental to delivering critical connections to digital ecosystems, including distributed multi-cloud models, via strategically located regional data centres. This will enable data to be processed quicker, regardless of where the end-user is located and for regional businesses and service providers would be a game-changer, allowing them to take advantage of edge through one unified network with reach across the UK. 

A nationwide platform is also particularly beneficial for regional businesses that have typically been underserved by suitable infrastructure and connectivity due to their lack of proximity to technology hubs in London and the South East. Many have been at a latency disadvantage as network traffic has to travel further, however, by spreading the load across three or four regional edge data centres, rather than through one central hub, businesses can enable data to be processed closer to each end-user, reducing congestion on the network, and improving latency. 

Choosing the right edge partner

As with any new technology, choosing the right partner will be key to success. However, with so many vendors offering edge services and solutions, it can be hard for organisations to know where to start. 

Arguably the most fundamental ingredient will be the data centre locations, so organisations need to look for a provider that can provide a good geographical spread across the UK – not just metropolitan areas – along with maximum coverage and seamless connectivity to cloud services.

Few networks are capable of the fast data transfer speeds and ultra-low latency needed for edge computing and organisations need to consider whether the provider possesses the sufficient capacity to match the organisation’s bandwidth demands both today and in the coming years. 

It is also key to ensure they have full route diversity around the UK to prevent the incidence of any major fibre outages. Finally, when it comes to continued use of the cloud, considering a provider that can offer true wrap-around support and connectivity between cloud and colocation services can enable true resiliency.

Unlocking the edge opportunity

Ever-expanding volumes of data and growing numbers of devices have put pressure on response times and transfer rates that are critical for today’s advanced applications. As a result, edge computing is set to become the new standard across enterprise IT.

However, when looking at the relationship between edge computing and cloud computing, pitting one against the other is not the answer.  While cloud and edge computing are distinct in how they work, edge computing will enhance cloud architectures by encouraging decentralisation and shifting resources closer to end-users. 

Combining the best of edge and cloud will be the most effective strategy for many businesses, but this will depend on how organisations harness the opportunities that the edge can provide. And for regional businesses and service providers, a nationwide edge computing platform might just provide the key to unlocking the edge opportunity.

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