Adapting to the Evolving Edge

The edge is where it’s all happening in today’s digital world. It’s where distributed people and things moving around the globe come together via a variety of interconnected devices. At Equinix, we see the evolving edge taking clearer shape as businesses create new applications and business models that integrate the physical and virtual worlds on our global interconnection platform.

POP QUIZ: When you’re preordering your favorite skinny, no-foam latte from a smartphone that’s interconnected to your car’s intelligent multimedia system, and you grab it from a smiling barista as you drive up to your favorite cafe, what represents the edge in this scenario?

  1. Your smartphone
  2. Your car
  3. The cafe
  4. The cell tower transmitting wireless data traffic
  5. None of the above

I’ll let you ponder that while you read on. Rest assured, you’ll discover the answer by the end of this blog article.

Today’s businesses have good reason to establish an IT presence at the edge. The catalysts for this transformation ꟷ the Internet of Things (IoT) and rapidly proliferating user devices and applications ꟷ are generating extraordinary volumes of data traffic at the edge that needs to be stored, processed and analyzed. According to Gartner, “IoT endpoints will reach an installed base of 25.1 billion units by 2021.”[i]

Cisco says we reached the Zettabyte Era back in 2016, when the annual run rate for global IP traffic rose to 1.2 ZB per year. By 2021, that rate is estimated to practically triple, increasing to 3.3 ZB per year, with smartphones accounting for 33% of the total traffic.[ii] And, as we discussed in our blog article on emerging 5G high-speed wireless networks, significantly more and faster data traffic will soon be coming at businesses from the edge!

Increasing edge traffic is also a contributor to the greater global demand for Interconnection Bandwidth, the total capacity provisioned to privately and directly exchange traffic with a diverse set of counterparties and providers at distributed IT exchange points inside carrier-neutral colocation centers. According to the second annual Global Interconnection Index (the GXI), a market study published by Equinix, installed Interconnection Bandwidth capacity is estimated to grow to 8,200+ Terabits per second (Tbps) by 2021. To quantify the volume of data 8,200+ Tbps of Interconnection Bandwidth capacity can move, it is the equivalent of 33 Zettabytes (ZB) of data exchange per year – ten times the projected capacity of internet traffic.

Gartner also predicts, “By 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud.”[iii] We expect the use cases for the evolving edge to be highest around machine-to-machine, latency-sensitive (e.g., cellular networks) and life-critical (e.g., autonomous vehicles, healthcare) applications.

Due to this abundance of new edge traffic, along with more business services and workloads being deployed outside the corporate data center, traditional data center topologies will move toward more distributed digital infrastructures. According to Gartner[iv]:

“Digital infrastructure architecture won’t be based on current topologies, but will be global in scale, driven by business requirements. I&O leaders must focus on enabling rapid deployment of business services and deploying workloads to the right locations, for the right reasons, at the right price.”

Over time, the edge may be defined in different ways by these emerging digital infrastructures, new vertical industry business models and innovative applications. However, we view it as that key intersection point where people, locations, clouds, data and things are interacting in meaningful ways in support of any business anywhere and at any time.

Based on what we’re seeing from our more than 9,800 customers worldwide, 2019 will be the year that businesses aggressively adapt their business models and processes to meet the changing needs of an evolving edge. Edge data centers (on-premises and in colocation facilities) and “sneakernet” transport systems that bypass networks to move sensitive data onto physical media (e.g., external USB drives) are two ways we expect to see the edge evolve to manage the coming data deluge. At the same time, companies will be looking for ways to balance the benefits of edge applications with the cost of deploying IT infrastructures at the edge.

The benefits of private interconnection at the edge

Edge use cases are as plentiful as the data traffic they produce, and they all have one thing in common: They require direct and secure interconnection between the people, the things, and the digital and business ecosystems that support them. Private interconnection also solves a number of common challenges that businesses face during this age of digital transformation and edge migration. These include network optimization, the best hybrid multicloud strategy, and distributed security and data.

For example, placing and interconnecting IT infrastructures and decentralizing data repositories and computing power within strategic metro locations at the edge keeps your data traffic local. This means there is no need to travel over non-performant, less reliable, long-haul networks such as the public internet. Latency-sensitive application workloads (e.g., IoT, machine-to-machine, streaming media) traversing long distances can encounter delays that degrade application performance and user quality of experience (QoE). Moving interconnected IT services closer to employees, customers and partners greatly improves user QoE.

Direct interconnection to clouds can enable digital businesses to scale their IT infrastructures at the edge as a more cost-effective OPEX rather than an expensive CAPEX solution by using services only as needed. And one-to-many cloud interconnection solutions, such as Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™), enable businesses to build high-performance, scalable, reliable and secure hybrid multicloud infrastructures.

In addition, placing security controls proximate to where the vast majority of data is being created and exchanged helps you manage the wider, more dispersed cyber-attack landscape the edge presents. While this is critical for many applications, it can be life-saving in healthcare applications where communications between doctors, patients and hospital systems just can’t be tampered with. Who can forget the massive ransomware attack forged upon the U.K. healthcare system last year?

Now, getting back to our pop quiz. You’ve probably already figured out that the answer is E: None of the above. For many people, the edge means a lot of things but it is not just one thing. From our global vantage point at Equinix, the edge is where all things relevant to your business proximally intersect and interact for the greatest performance and user experience. It is everywhere you need to be to locally interconnect everyone in your supply chain (e.g., employees, partners, customers) with clouds, systems, applications, data and things − and integrate everything that matters to your digital business.

Check out the Global Interconnection Index Volume 2.


You may also want to read:

The Platform Equinix Vision Paper


[i] Gartner, “The Edge Completes the Cloud: A Gartner Trend Insight Report,” Bob Gill and David Smith, 14 September 2018.
[ii] Cisco, “The Zettabyte Era: Trends and Analysis,” June 2017.
[iii]Gartner, “The Edge Completes the Cloud: A Gartner Trend Insight Report,” Bob Gill and David Smith, 14 September 2018.
[iv] Gartner, “The Data Center Is Dead, and Digital Infrastructures Emerge,” David Cappuccio, 13 April 2018.


Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.