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Is Edge Computing Transporting Us Back to the Future?

For the first several decades after the digital computing revolution began, information technology (IT) hardware systems grew with little restraint. As needs arose, and software applications were introduced to address those needs, organizations unapologetically added the hardware necessary to run new applications. Often, individual hardware devices were dedicated to the applications running on them, which led to the proliferation of a massive number of servers. Copy rooms grew into LAN rooms, LAN rooms expanded into server rooms, and server rooms evolved into data centers.  The growth is astounding,  the power density of a data center is 100 times more than that of a large commercial office building and is equivalent to 9 small sized shopping malls of Wal-Mart size.

Then, everything changed. We first felt this change around 2007/2008 when the economy started to slide. The lack of funds forced IT managers to do more with less. They discovered VMWare and realized that they could operate multiple virtual servers on a single box. This new technology, coupled with the economic/financial pressure and the physical limitations of the environmental infrastructure used to support data centers, brought about an abrupt end to on-premise data center expansion.

Around this same time, colocation was beginning to gain widespread appeal. This led IT departments to consider relocating some or all of their on-premise data center assets to nearby colo sites. We began to see a significant shift in the mindset of several IT and business leaders when they realized that they could offer similar computing capabilities to their internal customers without having to operate a fully-functional data center in a corporate office building; a less-than-ideal location. Over the last decade, this transition from on-premise computing to both cloud and colocation has been a major priority for almost every IT manager.

What is Edge Computing?

Now that everyone is onboard with the idea that virtualization is good, colocation is cost-effective, and cloud services are safe, a very strange trend is starting to take shape. The trend toward mass-centralization appears to be slowing, and many industry experts are touting the benefits of de-centralization. The catch phrase of the day is now “edge computing”, which is essentially, the act of locating processing and storage capacity in a distributed fashion with the idea of increasing computational efficiency, reducing network/bandwidth expenses and minimizing latency.

For those of us who lived through the Internet bubble and the years that followed, this is a truly remarkable development. Five years ago, it seemed that every IT article or blog touted the benefits of consolidation, colocation or cloud. These concepts are still valid and critically important, but now, we are also beginning to hear a groundswell of pundits describing a potential reversal of the centralization trend. In order to achieve breakthrough performance, connect to IoT devices, distribute content, operate autonomous vehicles, utilize AI, etc., we will soon need to rely on a more distributed computing architecture.

Future Possibilities of Edge Computing

Despite the growing need to shift some IT infrastructure closer to the end user, there is little chance that colocation providers are going to feel any negative impact. Data center REITs are building capacity as fast as they can, and they’re barely keeping up with demand. In our opinion, any future networks of distributed “edge” sites will compliment, and not compete with, the highly efficient centralized cloud and colo platforms. Both types of facilities will be needed, and they will exist for different purposes. Edge sites will deliver localized processing and storage capability where proximity is critical and data transfer is cost-effective. Large centralized or regionalized data centers will handle bulk processing and storage, cloud applications for the masses, and other less-latency-sensitive computing.

No one can predict where the next decade will take us, but we are cautiously excited about the growth of edge concepts. The whole idea of designing, deploying, operating and maintaining computing facilities in a distributed fashion reminds us at Compu Dynamics about our roots. In the early 1980’s, we were considered a pioneer of on-premise data centers. In some ways, edge computing has the potential to transport us back to the future.