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Volta Data Centres Blog

Moving closer and closer to the edge

Posted by Volta Newsroom on 01-May-2018 09:39:06

Data centre consolidation has provided many benefits as organisations have sought to streamline their IT operations. However, there are now compelling reasons to consider the strategic use of edge data centres, alongside centralised facilities, to provide the optimum infrastructure foundation for business, or digital, transformation.

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Data centre managers who have spent the past few years consolidating their infrastructure – for good reason – might be forgiven for wondering if the idea of edge computing and the accompanying edge data centres is little more than a bad joke. Consolidation made perfect sense, reducing the IT and data centre real estate, with a significant gain in resource usage efficiency and financial savings. It also took IT and data centres (more likely, computer rooms or cupboards!) away from non-specialists and placed them very firmly in the hands of the centralised professionals.

Along comes edge computing and, apparently, it’s time to abandon the data centre consolidation process by creating a series of edge data centres/computing resources closer to the end user.

In actual fact, there’s no centralised v edge data centre decision to be made. No, as with so much IT at the present time, the byword for the optimal data centre infrastructure is ‘hybrid’. Large, centralised data centres are still required to do many of the tasks that they are currently performing. New, edge data centres are now needed to provide enhanced levels of agility, speed and performance, at a more local level – which centralised facilities simply cannot offer.

So, what is an edge data centre? Well, it’s likely to be significantly smaller than your consolidated, centralised data centre(s), and it will be situated nearer to the users it is serving than a centralised facility. For example, your organisation might be based in the south-east, where you have your main data centre. However, your customer base is spread right across the UK and continental Europe, so you might consider placing edge data centres nearer to end user groups. In the UK, this might mean opening edge facilities in, say, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh; for Europe, one edge data centre per country would be a great starting point.

Why an edge data centre? This is, perhaps, the crucial question. It’s all good and well to understand what an edge data centre might look like, and where it might be located, but what’s the need for these facilities?

Well, more and more end user applications are requiring more and more performance, more and more reliability and less and less latency. This is true both for what might be termed both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ scenarios.

In the push case, applications and content that needs to reach customers extremely quickly and reliably could be served centrally, but think about the latency of delivering data from London to Moscow. If you have a data centre in Moscow, elsewhere in Russia, or even a nearby country, then the end user application experience is going to be much better than the London to Moscow route. The data has much less distance to travel and many less network links to pass through. Speed and reliability will be significantly better.

For small data files, this might not make much of a difference, but when it comes to website performance, video and games streaming or the overall ecommerce process, then hosting content-intensive applications closer to their point of use makes perfect sense.

In the pull case, thanks to rapidly developing technologies such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, more and more data is going to be created remotely, by more and more intelligent devices and much of this data will need to be processed remotely.

By now, everyone must be familiar with the autonomous vehicle concept. While no one knows exactly how this market will develop, it’s a safe bet that, as these vehicles travel along a road, they are going to need to send and receive small amounts of data in real-time. So, reporting to a centralised data centre several hundred miles away is not really an option.

Perhaps of more immediate relevance to most businesses is the increasing need for real time customer interaction. An existing customer walks by your shop, and you could send him or her a quick message offering an exclusive discount if they come in and make a purchase. Or, a customer is already in the shop, and you are alerted to this fact, and you know they are going on holiday in a month’s time (having answered one of your surveys a while back), so you tempt them with a special offer to go and buy some swimwear or luggage.

Or, it could be something as simple as receiving an alert that Mr and Mrs Smith have just entered your office, so the message board at reception comes up with a simple, personalised welcome message – a good start to a meeting.

By processing data locally in an edge data centre, there’s every chance that you can interact with a customer before they leave the shop/office. Wait for data to travel hundreds of miles to the centralised data centre facility and the recommended action to travel back and it could result in a missed sales opportunity.

So, the local, edge data centre deals with real time applications and, at the end of the day, this locally produced and processed information can be sent back to the centralised facility for more strategic analysis to take place and, of course, for storage.

Data centre consolidation took place in part to eliminate the problems associated with running and maintaining remote infrastructure. Now, edge data centres can be operated remotely, thanks in the main to the development of orchestration and other automation tools - so there’s still no need for local expertise!

Still sceptical about the potential of edge data centres? Well, think what happens when you try and make an online purchase and the website you are using is slow to load. Do you wait patiently, or go and find another, faster website?!

Topics: Volta News

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