Thursday 17th October 2019
What is the Edge?
Despite much discussion about Edge, the concept should really be considered a deployment strategy rather than a new technology as some are inclined to suggest. As a concept, Edge is not new and has been around for multiple decides. Consider Akamai’s Content Distribution Network (CDN), which was being built in the late 1990’s and is a clear example of an Edge deployment in all but name.
In reality, ‘Edge’ is something of a marketing term used to describe a strategy using technology that is not necessarily new. It is also evident that ‘Edge’ means very different things to different people and organizations, depending upon their business requirements and technology base. Equipment deployments ranging from 20 Watts (a so-called Nano Data Centre) to over 5 Megawatts have been described as ‘Edge’ sites.
It could be argued that the term “Edge Data Centre” does not really relate to a new phenomenon, but is rather a collective name for several different types of data centres which serve a number of different purposes, none of which are new, but have been relatively unrecognized or “unclassified”, to date. These are likely to be relatively small remote sites which might include responses to increasing data sovereignty requirements, expectations for reductions in latency and proximal workload processing.
Others would argue that the ‘Edge’ is entirely new and relates to very specific and separate elements within the ‘Cloud’, which offer new functions and features, particularly in relation to IoT and mobile services. Either way, there is a clear perception that Edge sites are different from the more traditional ‘Core’ data centres and therefore need to be maintained and managed in a different way. This will vary depending on the technology deployed and an organization’s business objectives and requirements.
A better and more explanatory term for Edge might be ‘Proximal Processing and Storage”, with the intention being to place services closer to the end-user for a variety of reasons which might include one or more of the following: application and network latency, network transmission costs, data sovereignty requirements, data protection requirements, advantageous taxation regimes and more widespread data gathering.
The Growth of the Edge
One driving factor is the fact that customers have become accustomed to (and expect) instant results or low latency connection to services no matter where they are located. The ‘Edge’ in this sense is computing facilitated by smaller satellite data centres often themselves supported by one or more larger Core Data Centres which might aggregate data and perform the deep analytics that businesses now expect and increasingly require.
The increasing deployment of IoT devices will also drive a degree migration to the ‘Edge’ but this is by no means the only driver. The Edge as a concept will continue to grow shaped by the demand for Proximal Processing and Data Storage including data sovereignty and regulatory compliance as well as latency etc.
For many businesses, there is an increasing expectation and need to have processing power and data held locally to wherever their customers happen to be. This is potentially a major consideration in delivering increased service quality and ultimately increasing both customer satisfaction and providing new or significantly enhanced products. In this sense, we could reference the terms ‘Competitive Edge’ or ‘Gaining an Edge’.
This does not mean the death of the traditional core data centre as some have predicted. Core Data Centres will still be required for core functions including the storage and processing of large volumes of data accumulated from Edge sites. This is being offered in different ways by Hyperscale, Large Enterprise, Colocation and Managed Service Providers.
What are the Challenges?
Whatever definition or type of Edge is being deployed, there is one aspect that is somewhat being overlooked. We increasingly rely upon and expect high reliability of data centre site operations and high (24×365) availability of the services hosted within those sites.
This high level of service is often delivered by sites with multiple levels of equipment redundancy, a very comprehensive preventative maintenance plan, and dedicated data centre engineers based on-site in shifts 24×7. The high (possibly unreasonable) expectations around uptime/availability cannot automatically apply to smaller, remote dark sites which are the standard edge model. How do we achieve this expected level of reliability without staff on-site running traditional planned preventative management operations?
Since Edge sites are typically remote and unmanned, there needs to be a new industry approach to providing support for these sites in order to deliver the levels of reliability and availability that customers now expect. This can be achieved if all applications and data hosted within a site have multi-site resilience such as site failover or genuine Synchronous Replication, however, this is not the case in all Edge sites. This, therefore, raises a challenge. How do we maintain the continued availability of Edge sites when they are remote and unmanned?
One of the biggest overheads for data centre operators is its ‘on-premise’ engineering teams and maintenance services. In the UK, the typical support model is to employ a team of on-site engineers that work on shift patterns at a large cost to the business. Where a data centre is designed and built with a high degree of site resilience and correctly maintained, it should be recognized that the risk to uptime is very low and a permanent team of engineers based on site is not necessary.
A Better Way to Operate
The typical Edge data centre will be unstaffed and follow a dark-site operating model typically with a smaller footprint than traditional core data centres. In this scenario, without full-time engineers on site, new operating models and predictive maintenance techniques need to be applied to ensure operational reliability in addition to the standard preventative maintenance plans.
Edge sites should be seen as typically ‘dim’ or ‘dark sites’ where engineering support is performed remotely under contract by a third-party operator. This also has the great advantage of significantly reducing OPEX costs. Companies like Future-tech, who are already operating Remote Services for data centres on behalf of multiple customers, are therefore particularly well suited to those wishing to move to a ‘Dark Site’ Operating model in order to reduce the extremely high costs of on-site personnel, yet maintain site reliability and availability.
We need to make more use of predictive maintenance, effective remote monitoring tools, intelligent management systems using Machine Learning and Analytics, as well as engineers and engineering teams with multiple skill sets including IT related skills.
Routine site visits do need to be performed, yes, but with greater purpose and range of planned activities/upgrades/installations, depth of knowledge and insight rather than mere adherence to a rigid PPM Schedule.
This new approach along with specially trained engineers who can perform tasks across multiple disciplines rather than the more traditional siloed approach to engineering delivery will ensure that the site infrastructure is kept in the optimal operating condition without the requirement for site-based staff. Additional predictive maintenance techniques ensure that any potential issues are highlighted and dealt with according to an agreed and scheduled plan before they develop into problems in order to maintain site operational effectiveness.
Maintaining the Edge means looking after Edge sites properly in order to maintain the operational availability and integrity that customers expect. This requires a different set of skills and new approaches to the current traditional Facilities Management way of managing data centres.
At Future-tech we take this on board to ensure that we are not only maintaining the Edge, we are also here to help you gain and sustain your competitive edge.
Future-tech has been designing, building and managing business-critical data centres since 1982. The experience gained in being involved in the data centre sector from the outset has resulted in Future-tech sites achieving 99.999% uptime during 35+ years of operation. Future-tech has a team of experienced, skilled, and highly trained in-house Data Centre Engineers capable of properly maintaining and operating business-critical data centre sites of all sizes.
For more details please contact Richard Stacey on 0845 900 0127 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit our website www.future-tech.co.uk
Author: Critical Support Director of Future-tech SCi Ltd, Mark Acton
With over 25 years of experience in the Data Centre sector industry, a regular public speaker at international events and a recognised industry advisor on data centre technical issues as well as being involved in European data centre Standards development through CENELEC and BSI.