There are lots of definitions of “the edge”. Ask four different people, and you’ll likely get four different answers.
In ancient times – say, oh, ten years ago – people commonly referred to the edge as remote offices, branch offices, or systems located out in inhospitable places. Those definitions capture some of the challenges associated with edge computing, but it’s far from the whole picture. For one thing, it doesn’t really capture a true sense of scale, particularly important these days, as more data gets generated, processed, and consumed outside of traditional data centers.
As the edge has evolved, so too have the available opportunities, and customer expectations along with them. Now we need to take this evolution to the data center itself.
Cities are getting smarter. Last month, the Philippine government committed to the completion of six separate ‘smart city’ projects, the latest in a chain of related projects occurring all over the world. Continued adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, frequently an essential element of a smart city, along with improved connectivity via 5G networks, continues to add speed to the push towards the ‘edge’. So too have consumer expectations, which have increased to match the immediate ability to meet all kinds of needs digitally, from checking maps on the fly to informing their oven that it needs to begin preheating before they head home from the office.
Data centers are designed as “task-specific” containers for housing IT equipment, which comes bundled with some key size, power, temperature control, access control, environmental regulation, and accessibility requirements.
The edge, on the other hand, has different characteristics to that traditional data center model.
The edge creates strong incentives to conserve power.
Either because there isn’t much available, and getting more is nearly impossible, or because it’s sold at a premium. Think colocation facilities. And of course, excess power turns into unwanted heat and the chances of an optimally cooled environment (and the additional power being available to run that) are increasingly slim the further to the edge you get. Designing for optimal efficiency becomes an imperative.
The edge creates strong incentives to conserve bandwidth.
With data being regularly piped back from the edge to somewhere else across a finite physical resource (cables in the ground, 5G radio towers, satellite links, etc.), bandwidth must be protected.
There’s not always a pair of ‘intelligent hands’ at the edge.
The highly distributed, workload-specific nature of edge computing can allow for a far broader range of circumstances and installations than a typical data center, and there may not always be a human onsite to perform hands-on tasks.
You may also need to deal with these additional sources of pain, depending on your edge infrastructure use case:
- wide variations from site to site in security and access control infrastructure,
- degraded environmental controls, particularly around heat, particulates, and vibration control,
- unreliable connectivity to the rest of the world, and
- these installs might literally be in motion at times!
Are you ready for the edge?
If you aren’t managing data on the edge, chances are that will be changing very soon. It might start with off-site backups to a service provider or colocation facility, or when you implement Microsoft Office 365 campus-wide, or when you deploy the latest manufacturing automation systems into a secure enclave.
The old-school notion of “edge infrastructure” being less than mission critical has gone out the window. For many of our clients, data drives real-time decision making and analysis that cannot afford to wait because of remote locations or small pipes.
That’s why SoftIron looks at the edge as a process that begins outside the four walls of a data center. We’ve seen the need for data storage and processing across all kinds of locations, including colocation facilities, military barracks, remote offices, and in the backs of commercial vehicles. For organizations moving towards stricter data control and compliance standards, seeking out upstream connectivity variability, or looking to meet real-time processing requirements, public cloud is growing less and less attractive as a whole-of-business solution.
SoftIron’s approach to the edge
Our task-specific design creates a denser, and better user experience at the edge.
High performance systems with low power requirements.
We can deploy over 1PB clusters without exceeding the power capacity of a standard (US) 15A 110V circuit.
Resilient systems that can deliver >14 9’s of data durability through multiple system failures, which becomes critical in cases where you may not be able to send someone out to do onsite maintenance for long stretches of time.
Reduced cooling infrastructure needs, thanks to our appliances’ low power draw, and hyper-efficient passive and active cooling.
Real-time video transcoders
that can provide 50% or greater bandwidth savings for dozens of high definition video streams.
Software-aware hardware and management tools that lower the skill level required to successfully conduct routine maintenance, saving time and money during maintenance and hardware remediation activities. Check out the Ceph Button or our Storage Manager as examples of this.
A transparent chain of custody approach to product design, delivery, and use that delivers (via 360° auditable verification) confidence that what gets built in the factory is what gets deployed into your edge site.
In time, the edge will likely become, in aggregate, the new core of an enterprise’s data fingerprint, working in conjunction with carefully selected public cloud services.
Imagine how an approach focusing on security, resilience, and task-specific design could help you meet the service quality, governance, and environment impact goals for your disaggregated edge cloud strategy across the entire technology stack.
Well, good news – there’s no imagination required for this one. You can get started on your edge computing strategy right away through our test drive program – obligation free, and with zero vendor lock-in.