Edge Computing and How It's Evolving
Here's how edge computing helps — as well as a review of the various edge offerings in the industry.
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Edge computing is an emerging paradigm leading to a major transformation in the networking world. The prime advantages that edge computing offers are reduced latency, bandwidth optimizations, and faster processing of data which leads to a better user experience. It all depends on how time-critical the application in question is.
With COVID-19 and the way the work-from-home culture got popular — streaming applications used for edutech, collaborative tools, online healthcare, live training, and of course, the OTT platforms which were a savior for people socially disconnected due to being in home isolation or taking general COVID precautions — the criticality of an edge could be very well seen. All these applications could survive these tough times since the networking infrastructures across the world were mature enough to offer really low latency to these applications. Because of this, edge computing played a pivotal role in getting content closer to the real user. Edge use cases were no longer confined to public safety, military uses, or manufacturing sectors — edge had a way bigger role to play in the daily lives of people. This wasn't necessarily evident to a consumer directly, but the service providers offering them networks or real-world applications had a huge dependency on these emerging networking techniques.
Edge Infra: "What All Is Involved?" Customers Ask
Edge offered a lot of monetization opportunities to the small and the big players. There are equipment manufacturers who offer low-footprint edge devices — be it edge-in-a-box solutions or devices embedded with small sensor SoCs. And then there are big players like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft who started offering a lot of edge infra as IaaS across the world — for the edge application developers as well as the service providers who could leverage their edge infra to offer an immersive and interactive experience to the end users.
These edge solutions heavily use virtualization techniques — containerized apps, VMs, and so on, which helps one have more scalability based on the load and more reliability with redundant infra getting activated only on failures. This is way more cost-effective.
Of course, for all of this to work as a whole, most of the edge solutions bank a lot on two things — automation and orchestration. Edge infra is generally spread out — you don’t expect someone to go and configure boxes every now and then. It is important to have automated deployments controlled and orchestrated from some central points across the globe. The right resource distribution and configuration is critical to get the best out of these edge deployments. These edge infra might be placed in the customer premise or in the communication service provider’s network — it might be a private cloud deployment based on OpenStack or Kubernetes, or it might be hybrid cloud deployments.
Edge Infra: Commercial Offerings
The whole idea of the edge is a resource-constrained environment — the push was toward low-footprint data centers, densification of immense processing power in miniaturized form factors, moving toward containerized platforms, compact and self-contained data center building blocks which are optimized in terms of CPU or GPUs, memory, and so on. There have been offerings like an edge in the box. All of these offer cost optimizations when one is planning an edge deployment. There are products from vendors like Qualcomm, AWS, and so on — AWS offers portable edge devices like Snowball and Snowcone. All these solutions have an emerging market in the time to come.
When it comes to market offerings, AWS Wavelength is one popular solution for media streaming or real-time streaming. It offers wavelength zones, and the apps deployed in these zones can connect to the rest of the applications running somewhere in the cloud — so these zones directly connect to the AWS infrastructure across the globe. There are about 70+ zones across 20+ AWS regions.
Another big offering is from Google Cloud. They have started offering the Media CDN platform, which is completely oriented toward media applications. This allows Google Cloud customers to reuse the existing infra for edge streaming applications. The Google network is spread across more than 200 countries and has more than 1000 cities covered. The Media CDN platform also has APIs and automation tools that aid edge application developers to get more info and offer easy deployments with respect to their applications.
Edge Infra: Open Source
With the industry bending toward open-source solutions, edge infra and the edge platform market are also augmented by open source. The OpenInfra Foundation offers StarlingX, which is a complete private cloud-based edge platform. Another option is Akraino, which offers blueprints for various edge scenarios. These blueprints can be used to deploy and maintain edge platforms over COTS infrastructure. These blueprints have specific target markets, though — for instance, there is a radio edge cloud that offers a 5G RAN edge. There is an edge automation blueprint and the vertical edge applications blueprint, which can be leveraged for various real-time streaming applications.
There are some more open-source options like Edge Foundry, applicable to the IoT edge focusing on the interoperability between heterogenous devices and applications, and EVE (Edge Virtualization Engine), which can offer orchestration for the cloud-native real-time streaming applications running in the context of containers, VMs, or unikernels.
With the kind of involvement and interest across the industry, in the coming five years, we expect these open-source edge solutions to have more real-world deployments — thus helping on cost and a vaster range of use cases.
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