The Edge of Innovation and Digital Transformation

Edge Data Centres Have Emerged as a Game-Changer in the Field of Data Processing, Offering a Major Shift in How Data is Handled and Utilised

The increasing adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the growth of real time applications are driving the need for edge data centres. IoT devices generate a huge amount of data that needs to be processed and analysed in real time, and centralised data centres can be too far away to handle this data effectively.

Edge data centres are smaller facilities located closer to the source of data generation than a traditional centralised data centre. This means that they can process and analyse data more quickly and efficiently, which can be crucial for applications that require low latency or high bandwidth.

Edge data centres have a number of benefits, and can improve the performance of applications that require low latency, such as virtual reality and augmented reality. By processing data closer to the user, edge data centres can reduce the time it takes for data to travel to and from the central data centre, which can significantly improve the responsiveness of the application.

The need for edge data centres and computing

Highlighting the importance of edge data centres and computing is Jon Abbott, Technologies Director - Global Strategic Clients at Vertiv, who says: “Edge data centres and computing solve a myriad of organisational needs and can be used across industries, such as healthcare, education and retail. Its infrastructure can be placed within an enterprise’s premises or secure remote sites while being managed or hosted by service providers, offering various benefits, including improved performance and user experience. By placing edge sites closer to end users, latency and response times are reduced, leading to enhanced productivity, customer satisfaction and competitiveness.”

Data latency – the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another in a network – has always been a concern for data centre managers. However, in recent years, it has become a critical issue due to the generation of big data, IoT, cloud and streaming services, and other technological advancements.

End users and devices nowadays not only demand, but expect seamless and uninterrupted access to applications, services, and data stored in data centres, regardless of their location or the network they're connected to. This has led to an increasing emphasis on low latency, as even a slight delay can be noticeable and detrimental to user experience.

“The reduction of network latency is the main benefit of edge data centres,” says Jürgen Hatheier, International CTO of global networking infrastructure and software provider, Ciena. “Other benefits include reduced power density and, in some cases, data sovereignty rules mandate data being on-premise. They also offer practical benefits from a build perspective in terms of power consumption.

“Large campuses of data centres can place a strain on local power grids, whereas micro data centres can be better spread across the country and linked together. For example, in Germany, all of the data traffic ends up in Frankfurt because that is where the country’s large data centre hub is. This requires huge power consumption in one place. The industry is now thinking about whether high-speed fibre can be used to connect edge sites more practically and sustainably.”

The challenges and considerations for edge data centres

There is no doubt that edge computing opens up a range of new possibilities for businesses, yet it complicates the task of managing local operations for data centres and IT teams due to the expansion of network infrastructures, known as ‘network sprawl’. 

Abbott explains: “One of the primary concerns with edge deployments is the need to maintain and manage a large number of geographically dispersed sites, which can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive. At Vertiv, we help our customers by offering a range of IT remote access software and solutions including a comprehensive IT management platform that combines the infrastructure monitoring software with remote access support.”

Vertiv’s range of solutions and services can help enterprise customers maximise their technology investments by accelerating the integration of compute, including AI-capable computing, into on-premise data centres, enhancing the capabilities of edge sites, and extending equipment life.

“Monitoring and management systems can help to optimise the utilisation of critical equipment by operating it more efficiently,” says Abbott.  “For example, identifying stranded capacity reduces energy waste and costs, and combining monitoring with remote access and support capabilities make it possible to reduce the need for on-site personnel and to enhance the ability to manage the infrastructure in challenging or remote sites and locations.”

The emergence of new technologies

The integration of AI, IoT, and smart city technologies is creating an explosion of data, particularly high-resolution imagery and video, as we connect millions of sensors to create intelligent environments. Hatheier comments: “These sensors not only add traffic to the network but generate massive amounts of data that move around the network and between data centres to create value for enterprises and society alike. 

“As a key enabler of innovations that drive network connectivity, Ciena is helping our customers – the network providers – to provide the necessary underlying network infrastructure to support these emerging technologies and bandwidth to support growing traffic demands.”

Generative AI, which has been the hot topic of 2023, has also had a huge impact on the edge. Hatheier explains that the basic concept of why GenAI has such a big impact on the edge is the so-called ‘inference’. “Inference is where real-world data meets a pre-trained AI model (that pre-training has happened in the big data centre),” he says. “With a growing number of users, the inference needs to scale on the edge, and that edge could even be within an enterprise or somewhere close with low latency.”

The promise of edge computing in the future

Edge computing is rapidly gaining traction, driven by groundbreaking technological advancements such as 5G wireless networking, IoT and AI, as well as data sovereignty. 

From an application perspective, new deployments at the edge will generate and capture vast amounts of data. The use of machine learning will be pivotal in delivering real-time responses for intelligent decision-making – from IoT devices acting as sensors to detect any measurable activity, to healthcare in remote locations with limited connectivity and the handling of patient device data analysis.

“Looking ahead, edge computing promises to benefit a wide range of industries,” says Abbott. “From cloud gaming to smart grids, to autonomous robots in industrial settings, they all have something to gain from processing data closer to the end device. In fact, edge computing is quickly evolving into a critical technology for the AI and 5G-powered information age. 

“In February this year, IDC estimated that global edge computing Investments would reach US$208bn in 2023, an increase of 13.1% over 2022, and as enterprises race to integrate AI into their businesses, they will need to ensure edge sites are equipped to handle the increased demands of AI-capable computing.”

As the ever-increasing volume of data generated by connected devices continues to grow at scale, organisations are embracing the transformative potential of edge computing to enhance network performance, enable seamless digital experiences, and deliver innovative products and services. However, as the edge of the network evolves into a critical hub of data processing and analysis, the underlying infrastructure must also adapt and expand to meet the demands of this evolving landscape.

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