Understanding the Edge From a Customer Perspective

Dec. 19, 2017
What do customers think about edge computing? How are they using it? DCF contributor Bill Kleyman explores the customer view from the edge.

One of the most popular concepts of 2017 has been edge computing. At DCF we’ve written a lot about edge from the service provider and network design perspective. But what do customers think about edge computing? Are they adopting it? To answer this question, we turned to DCF contributor Bill Kleyman, who experiences the customer viewpoint as CTO of MTM Technologies.

We see more services being delivered via intelligent mechanisms, bringing data and applications closer to the end-user. I’ve been working on a number of edge computing projects that seek to improve user experiences by bringing them close to key data points and giving them even richer content.

The good news is that customers already have a decent understanding of edge computing and what it can do for the business. A big reason we’re seeing more of these types of projects is the digital nature of our industry. There are more distributed users, who are requesting more services and applications to be productive. Many customers understand cloud, but also understand its limitations.

In a world where “slow is the new down” we can’t just deliver apps via standard services like cloud. Sure, it may work in many instances. However, for those remote locations or smaller offices, edge services can be a better solution than a cloud or centralized data center architecture.

“Organizations that have embarked on a digital business journey have realized that a more decentralized approach is required to address digital business infrastructure requirements,” says Santhosh Rao, principal research analyst at Gartner. “As the volume and velocity of data increases, so too does the inefficiency of streaming all this information to a cloud or data center for processing.”

As Gartner points out, there are benefits to decentralizing computing power and placing it closer to the point where data is generated — in other words, edge computing.

Let’s look at the edge from a customer’s perspective, understanding the use-cases, definitions, and how different industries are leveraging edge computing to improve their own business and data center services.

Edge Isn’t Here to Replace Cloud

Edge is a complement to cloud. This is a really important point to understand. In all of the projects I’ve done recently, it’s been the limitations of cloud that has given rise to the edge requirement. From the customer’s perspective, edge solutions are going to take away from the traditional cloud architecture.

However, they’re still using cloud for SaaS, offloading of equipment, for DevOps, and numerous other services. Edge, on the other hand, focuses on more specific services which require less latency and more proximity to the app and the user. It’s more of a divide and conquer architecture.

How Do Customers Define Edge Computing?

I actually asked a couple of customers to define their ‘edge’ ecosystem as they see it. Combining 3-4 responses, and you saw similarities.

Basically, their definition is: Edge computing allows us to define very specific networks, applications, and services which aren’t entirely suited for the cloud. This could be because of price, proximity, location, services, and so on. Although we don’t want to build an entire new data center, edge allows us to leverage specific services, micro-data centers, and branch locations to deliver the experience we require.

We often start talking about the use-cases before we even mention the word ‘edge.’ And, before long, the customer may very well have defined their requirements, and it looks a whole lot like edge services.

The Technologies In an Edge Environment

Here’s the cool part: edge solutions specifically revolve around the use case. Are you trying to deliver an application or an entire virtual desktop? Or, are you trying to deliver data that needs to be analyzed closed to users or their systems? To that extent, edge systems can include:

  • SD-WAN and WANOP solutions.
  • Branch and micro data centers.
  • Specific cloud services like (AWS Greengrass, for example)
  • Software-defined technologies (network, storage)
  • Hybrid cloud connectivity
  • IoT processing (Azure IoT Edge, for example)
  • Firewall and network security

Depending on the use-case, your edge solution may vary. However, customer working to define their own edge platforms generally aim to reduce latency between devices, applications and users. From there, the goal is to reduce bandwidth costs involved in delivering data and applications closer to users. Finally, edge must also focus on security and compliance to ensure the locality and control of sensitive data points.

Where Industries Are Using Edge Today

Edge services are being deployed within a number of industries. Industrial IoT has been gaining a lot of traction. IDC recently predicted that by 2019, 45 percent of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon near the edge of, the network. In working with manufacturing customers, we’re seeing how they’re bringing analog devices into the digital world. Sensors, machines, and mobile devices are becoming a bigger part of the manufacturing world. In these cases, bringing data and applications closer to where these devices are being used is critical.

Another big example if healthcare. In the world of pharmaceuticals, medicine, and healthcare, you’re either being acquired or doing the acquiring. This has resulted in many new healthcare organizations, lots of new locations, and a lot of distribution. In fact, a major initiative for many of my customers has been bringing advanced healthcare services closer to their end-users.

Some customers in healthcare work with SD-WAN and telemedicine capabilities to change the way they bring healthcare to remote locations. Customers in the healthcare world must focus on user experience, while still creating competitive advantages. In these situations, they look to the edge of the network to simplify delivery, control costs, and improve patient services.

Looking Ahead: The Future of the Edge

According to Gartner, currently around 10 percent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. By 2022, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 50 percent. This means that services around edge will continue to evolve and grow.

Remember that from the customer’s perspective, edge computing can be any services or architecture which helps you simplify and localize the delivery of applications, data sets, and services. These services help you gain more control over your WAN, bandwidth requirements, and how rich content is delivered. The future absolutely looks to be a lot more interconnected, with more user distribution. And with the influx of new data, edge will be even more important.[clickToTweet tweet=”Bill Kleyman: The future absolutely looks to be a lot more interconnected, with more user distribution.” quote=”Bill Kleyman: The future absolutely looks to be a lot more interconnected, with more user distribution.”]

Designing an edge platform doesn’t have to be hard. There are numerous good virtualization, networking, and cloud partners who can assist in the design and deployment process. However, the most successful projects are those where edge services are very clearly defined. That is, use-cases are understood, and the impact on the end-user is measured. From there, numerous organizations across almost every vertical can enjoy the benefits of edge. Your ability to bring data close to the user and application – more efficiently – can be a big factor in creating optimal experiences and real-world competitive advantages.

Explore the evolving world of edge computing further through Data Center Frontier’s special report series and ongoing coverage.

About the Author

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman is a veteran, enthusiastic technologist with experience in data center design, management and deployment. Bill is currently a freelance analyst, speaker, and author for some of our industry's leading publications.

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