Andy Connor, EMEA Channel Director, Subzero Engineering, outlines the edge explosion and examines the crucial role of the modular, micro data centre in delivering digital transformation.
The idea of delivering IT resources close to the point of use is not a new one. However, where once the required data centre and IT infrastructure resources were relatively inflexible, slow and expensive to build out and run, today’s digital solutions provide the necessary mix of scalability, agility, flexibility, speed and cost-effectiveness to make the edge a transformational reality.
The Linux Foundation’s recent ‘State of the Edge 2021’ market report suggests that, between 2019 and 2028, approximately $800 billion will be spent on new and replacement IT server equipment and edge computing facilities. At the same time, the global IT power footprint for infrastructure edge deployments is forecast to increase from 1GW to over 40GW. Valuates Reports predict that the global edge computing market alone will reach $55,930 million by 2028, from $8,237 million last year.
The growth of edge
Edge growth will be witnessed across almost every industry sector, including transport and logistics, manufacturing, energy and utilities, healthcare, smart cities and retail. This growth can be divided into two subcategories: edge devices – all manner of (IoT-enabled) sensors and handheld devices which will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate, process and act upon data locally; and edge infrastructure – the networks (including 5G) and data centre infrastructure required to support the ‘local’ applications and to house the servers which will collect, process and store the likely zettabytes of data and images these applications generate via the devices.
Industry 4.0 promises to revolutionise the manufacturing industry, with more and more intelligence and automation being implemented to optimise product design and testing as well as actual production processes. Edge sensors, devices and infrastructure can be installed retrospectively to upgrade existing manufacturing facilities – indeed many organisations have already embarked on this process. Native edge applications which incorporate advanced digital operations, such as autonomous, mobile robots, will be a major feature of new greenfield factories, constructed, for example, to produce the autonomous vehicles and alternative, sustainable energy infrastructures of the future.
Edge and affected industries
Autonomous vehicles are, perhaps, the best example of just how prevalent edge computing will become. Not only will all manner of IoT sensors and devices be deployed in the manufacturing supply chain, as well as during vehicle production; there will also be the need for edge data centre infrastructure to be created within the factories, to ensure near real-time communications between the computers, the networks and the data storage. The autonomous vehicles themselves will incorporate a wide range of edge sensors and devices, ranging from those required for driving, control and safety functions, alongside what might be termed as ‘passenger interaction’ technology – everything from entertainment to safety instructions, route and time details.
There will need to be a massive build-out of edge infrastructure across the road network. This will serve three main functions: traffic safety at the very local level, ensuring there are no crashes or accidents with other road users or pedestrians; traffic management across specific zones, most notably in busy urban environments; and regional or national strategic data collection, processing and reporting, to enable an analysis of traffic trends and patterns, with a view to making improvements.
More widely, autonomous vehicles, transport systems and traffic management are key components of the rapidly developing Smart City concept. Road pricing and travel ticketing tariffs both rely on edge devices and infrastructure to respond to varying demands. Security and surveillance are key digital services within metropolitan areas and will increasingly rely on edge-enabled real-time reporting to flag up potential issues more quickly and more accurately than human beings scanning multiple security screens.
And the same is true in the retail sector – although, as many shops are located in city locations, one could argue that smart retailing is almost a sub-sector of the smart city. Point of sale (PoS) payment systems have existed for many years, relying on both edge devices and, increasingly, relatively local edge data centres, to ensure transaction speed and reliability, as well as efficient stock management. Customer loyalty programs are another example of edge technology already at work.
Smart transport, smart cities, smart retail. To this list can be added smart homes, smart healthcare, and smart energy, almost every activity can benefit from the addition of some kind of intelligence and/or automation. Our daily domestic and working lives, which increasingly intersect thanks to the digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, will feature literally hundreds of edge interactions.
Infrastructure – the edge explosion bottleneck?
Talking about edge applications is a great deal easier than implementing them. If autonomous vehicles, smart cities and smart retail are to become an everyday, reliable reality, then there needs to be a major build-out of the edge infrastructure required to make them happen. Look beneath the surface of almost any edge application and the data centre is the crucial foundation upon which to build. Right now, large, centralised data centre facilities are the norm. But this is beginning to change with the realisation that the local, real-time requirements of so many edge applications require a small, local, fast, agile, flexible and, importantly, scalable data centre to match. What’s needed is a micro data centre that is as dynamic as the customer’s edge application.
Customers should have the flexibility to utilise their choice of best-in-class data centre components, including the IT stack, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS), cooling architecture, racks, cabling, or fire suppression system. So by taking an infrastructure-agnostic approach, customers have the ability to define their edge and use resilient, standardised and scalable infrastructure in a way that’s truly beneficial to their business.
Furthermore, by adopting a modular architecture users can scale as demands require it, and without the need to deploy additional containerised systems. This approach alone offers significant benefits, including a 20-30% cost-saving, compared with conventional ‘pre-integrated’, micro data centre designs.
For too long now, our industry has been shaped by vendors that have forced customers to base decisions on systems which are constrained by the solutions they offer. Now is the time to disrupt the market, eliminate this misalignment, and enable customers to define their edge as they go.
By providing customers with the physical data centre infrastructure they need, no matter their requirements, you can help them plan for tomorrow. Disruptive edge applications require disruptive, proven micro data centre solutions.