Everyone agrees these days that the cloud is integral to the future of any digital business that wants to have a future. But is cloud computing peaking? Is a different kind of computing, edge computing, soon to eclipse the cloud in importance?
That’s the contention of Gartner’s Maverick Research arm, which writes: “Today’s focus on centralized cloud computing will shift to a focus on edge computing, and managing the architecture of applications and data from the cloud to the edge.”
Or, as Gartner puts it more colorfully in the title of its September 2017 research note by analyst Thomas J. Bittman, “Maverick Research: The Edge Will Eat the Cloud.”
Bittman is speaking to something here that we’ve been observing for the last 10 years, which is that business and IT organizations are both becoming massively distributed at the digital edge, where commerce, population centers and digital ecosystems meet. The digital edge is where data is created, and where data, people, devices and things interact and exchange that data.
In many ways, real-time interactions at the digital edge between users and various connected things are becoming more important than what’s at an enterprise’s centralized IT core. And as things keep shifting to the edge, cloud computing today is going to have the same limitations that traditional data centers and enterprise already have: It’s all too far away from the edge.
In fact, at Equinix we see businesses and cloud providers already evolving to focus on how they service things locally at the edge. Cloud is not going away by any means, and it’s already adjusting by becoming more distributed, so it can become an enabler as companies move toward building a digital edge, where their business will be happening in real time.
The emerging digital edge
The digital edge is something we’ve talked about for a while at Equinix.
Bittman notes: “The edge is not new. What’s new and changing is what will be happening at the edge. Instead of being the way to connect to computing and data at centralized nodes, the edge is becoming a primary source of data from an explosion of things. And these things need to connect to each other, and with people.”
It’s worth highlighting this point, so we can see how the massive growth in the number of things are changing the role of the cloud. The various functions of the Internet of Things (IoT) usually involve a collection of dozens of data points with algorithmic interactions happening between them, many of which simply must happen at the edge for things to work as they should.
Think, for instance, of a construction company that has thousands of connected machines in the field streaming information on operating conditions and usage, so people can make decisions that affect things like fuel efficiency and safety. All this data can’t always go to the cloud to enable real-time interactions: There’s just no time. It needs to stay at the edge.
As Bittman writes: “Cloud computing has given us access to massive centralized compute and storage power. But it doesn’t deliver on the front-end agility and physical/digital convergence needed at the edge. The ‘cloud’ is too far away; the bulk of data will not be created in the cloud, but at the edge. And compute always goes to the data.”
Bittman adds, “While centralized cloud computing at the back end will remain an important part of the digital business architecture — especially for coordination, aggregation, archiving and machine learning —its role will be dwarfed by the upcoming explosion of the more autonomous, more intelligent edge.”
Interconnection is essential
At Equinix, we’re not ready to put similar limits on the future role of the cloud. On the contrary, we’re extremely bullish about it. But we agree that what cloud looks like now will certainly change. We see the cloud becoming more decentralized, and we’re already working with various providers to move their footprints closer to all the major cities and global markets, to improve proximity to where the customers, partners and computing needs are – at the edge.
We believe that digital businesses won’t thrive unless they solve for the digital edge. At Equinix, we think a critical piece is Interconnection, defined as the private data exchange between companies. Our recent market study, the Global Interconnection Index, amplifies the importance of Interconnection in digital business. It projects 45% annual growth in Interconnection Bandwidth capacity between 2016 and 2020 – twice the growth of the internet and 6x the volume – as industries leverage the Interconnection they need to thrive at the digital edge.
We’ve also captured what the leading companies are doing to create their digital edge with an interconnection-first approach called an Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) strategy. An IOA strategy focuses on reducing the distance, interconnecting services locally, and placing key control adjacent. An IOA approach interconnects clouds, locations, people and data at the edge, for the most secure, highest-performing, lowest cost connectivity possible.
Read more about deploying an IOA strategy in the IOA Playbook, and join the community at IOAKB.com, for access to blueprints and design patterns for the digital edge.
Also, please check out Gartner’s Maverick Research: The Edge Will Eat the Cloud.