Unlocking the potential of edge computing

Edge computing has been the focus of much hype and investment in the cloud and telecommunications sectors, and its potential growth is exciting as the need for a better, faster customer experience is becoming ever more pressing as our networks grow and become even more widely distributed.

As the roll-out of 5G gathers momentum, the internet and the networks it supports will transform as data moves to the edge, creating flexible communications systems with low latency. The first applications using 5G’s revolutionary speeds are starting to be introduced, and new offerings such as high-resolution cloud gaming, industrial IoT processes or on-premise AR guidance will start reshaping industries. We’ve already seen the demand put on networks from the recent pandemic-induced lockdowns across Europe, and opportunities for 5G will only grow as the ‘new normal’ conditions we are living under take shape in the long term.

The potential of 5G

This year was set to be a major 5G coverage and capacity build year. Data and processing is starting to move from the core toward the edge to remove bottlenecks, and this will increase as the network virtualises. As the metro layer of the network becomes more important, getting power to these locations will be critical from a cost and time perspective – power, backhaul and site acquisition are the critical three factors for building a network and this is even truer for 5G.

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However, for low-latency applications to be successful you need more than just 5G. You also need to process these applications’ data close to their sources using edge computing technologies like edge data centres. With edge computing, you can avoid sending data back and forth from an edge device to a remote data centre. This significantly reduces latency and enables these new, low-latency 5G applications to fully realise their promise. As a result, we’ll see more data centres move to edge computing in order to bring these applications to fruition.

Building an edge data centre

Data centres that move to the edge have several key factors to consider before deployment. Geographic location and the characteristics of the proposed site should be front of mind, and the key questions to be considered are: is it close enough to the target market to ensure little latency and an excellent customer experience? Does the square footage allow for the number of racks and cabinets required? Thinking further ahead, does the space allow for expansion in the near future? All of this needs to have fair assessment in order to actually deploy an edge data centre.

If huge amounts of data are set to go to the edge, futureproofing a site must also be prioritised, as the physical layer infrastructure should be designed from the outset to support multiple upgrades. Service providers would be smart to consider both their present and future requirements when building an edge data centre in order to support the explosive projected growth in demand.

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The benefits of the edge

With edge computing, IT teams can unify the management of both the LAN and WLAN onto a common platform and therefore get better visibility of overall network performance from a single dashboard. Unified management reduces the training time and helps make IT staff more productive, while unified visibility across both the wired and wireless domains allows IT to forecast and plan network growth, as well as better optimise the current infrastructure within the business.

What’s more, with a converged edge network, it becomes possible to automate a number of routine tasks. Profiles and configurations can be pre-defined, and as new switches and access points (APs) come on the network, unified management systems can be automatically pushed to the new elements. Automating routine tasks frees up IT staff to focus on high-priority issues and ensures network consistency. As part of any digital transformation, organisations need to consider the value and savings of a converged edge network. With greater control and visibility, a converged edge network provides the flexibility that today’s modern enterprises need to succeed.

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A major challenge when adopting edge networks will be prioritising and routing network traffic to ensure that any operator-specific service would operate within the same SLAs on every other provider network. Making the most of edge networks will require standardising parts of the providers’ infrastructure to support the virtual network slicing. It’s an issue of cooperative design. This type of standardisation would eventually lead to the development of off-the-shelf modular network components that could be used to dramatically reduce the time and cost of maintaining the network and reduce mean-time-to-repair.

If we can unlock edge computing and use it to its full potential, then a colossal shift in how businesses use communications technologies could be on the horizon. As 5G networks expand and the technology matures, edge computing could finally deliver the quantum leap in network design and management that so many organisations have been waiting for.

Written by Ehab Kanary, vice-president, enterprise EMEA at CommScope

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