The next revolution after Cloud Computing is Edge Computing, a revolution pushed by industry trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning. The idea behind Edge Computing is simple: doing the processing not in central cloud data centers hundreds of miles away but rather “at the edge”, in close proximity to the source (end user, cellphone, smart car etc.). Running at the edge, according to AT&T, can “boost the potential of self-driving cars, augmented and virtual reality, robotic manufacturing, and more”.
But where is this “edge”? And who provides it to us?
Could public Cloud Computing vendors serve Edge Computing? In fact, cloud vendors make their money off centralized services, leveraging their economy of scale to serve the masses off their monstrous centralized state-of-the-art data centers. But when it comes to Edge Computing this winning formula breaks since cloud vendors simply don’t have localized edge presence that can reach a few miles from the end user (not even their distributed caching/CDN sites). Indeed, cloud vendors are starting to recognize the potential threat and are trying to mitigate it by providing some edge computing solutions, but these depend on others to provide the edge location. One might even speculate that Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods store chain may also serve as local real estate for edge computing aspirations.
So who has the edge presence?
The perfect candidates are the Telcos, the communications service providers who own the access networks that deliver data, telephony and even TV to every home, business and cellphone. A prime example is AT&T, which last month announced its plans to deliver Edge Computing:
Instead of sending commands hundreds of miles to a handful of data centers scattered around the country, we’ll send them to the tens of thousands of central offices, macro towers, and small cells usually never farther than a few miles from our customers.
AT&T will start deploying Edge Computing in dense urban areas. The first deployed service is FlexWareSM, targeted for enterprise customers. But that’s just the first step. AT&T sets out to “reinvent the cloud through Edge Computing”, leveraging its other cutting-edge technologies of Software Defined Networking and Network Virtualization. Later on, with its next generation 5G networks, AT&T says it expects to reach “single-digit millisecond latency” – an ambitious goal indeed.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has set out in 2014 to standardize edge computing for the telcos under its Multi-Access Edge Computing architecture (MEC, originally Mobile Edge Computing which was expanded last year to cover both mobile and fixed access networks). There are also open-source initiatives such as Open Fog Consortium (initiated by Cisco which coined the term “Fog Computing“), Open Edge Computing, and the recently-announced Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (which focuses on connected cars), each with its proud list of member telcos teamed up with vendors and academic institutions (some members participating in more than one). Edge Computing is also widely discussed by telcos in 5G forums, seeing that the upcoming 5th Generation networks will face not just a surge in bandwidth demand but also rising needs by massive IoT communications and latency-sensitive applications.
Telcos can leverage their unique footprint to provide Edge Computing services
The world of Edge Computing is getting a serious boost from the Telco industry, with its existing ubiquitous local points of presence, customer base and service provider capabilities – all the ingredients needed to provide edge computing as a service. This is also a life-saver for the telcos, which are facing the risk of becoming “just a dumb pipe”. While telcos largely failed to compete in the public cloud arena, Edge Computing enables telcos to fight off the cloud vendors and other over-the-top players biting off their business, and bring much-needed value-added services right to the very edge.
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