What Is at the Edge and Why Does Proximity Matter?

A webinar featuring Gartner discussing best practices for creating and interconnecting digital infrastructure at the edge with Equinix, NS1 and VMware

Zac Smith

It should be no surprise to anyone that IT infrastructure is everywhere. It drives every aspect of our lives.

The ubiquitous nature of infrastructure today and the implications of its proximity to users at the edge were the basis for a discussion in our recent Equinix and Gartner-featured webinar, What Is at the Edge and Why Does Proximity Matter?   I was thrilled to be a participant in the panel moderated by Bob Gill, VP Analyst, Gartner Infrastructure Strategies Group, along with Sanjay Uppal, SVP and GM at VMware and Kris Beevers, Co-Founder and CEO of NS1, a leading application traffic management platform.

We talked about our respective experiences working with customers on Platform Equinix® to get users and applications at the edge closer to fundamental digital infrastructure building blocks (i.e., compute, storage, networking and cloud/SaaS services).

What Is at the Edge and Why Does Proximity Matter?

In this webinar hosted by Equinix, featuring Gartner, VMware and NS1, discover what is driving compute to the edge and how to build an even greater competitive advantage.

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What’s happening at the edge?

Bob kicked things off with a description of how, for many enterprises, one day they realized the world had changed dramatically. “No longer was the data center the center of the universe. Instead, business units quite often went around IT in search of solutions, whether that was cloud, software as a service, application hosting or other means of obtaining these services. Looking at how people went explicitly to alternative means, we woke up one morning and realized that the barn door was open and the horse had gotten out!”

As all of us on the panel have witnessed first-hand how IT projects have proliferated across the infrastructure landscape, shifting enterprise workloads to the edge, something Bob defined as “… a physical location where businesses, things and people connect with the networked digital world.”

He included in this definition the “relative edge,” with locations such as a carrier-neutral data center or a cloud provider. In addition, he said the edge could be a place where “aggregation nodes” are checking-in different traffic for many users, rather than taking everything directly into the hyperscale data center.

As further proof of this massive edge migration, Bob shared that Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of enterprise workloads will have moved out of on-premises data centers into public cloud (35%) and as-a service platforms (45%).[i]

What’s proximity got to do with it?

To impose “order on the chaos,” Bob and colleagues at Gartner see businesses moving to new global infrastructure and networking designs to distribute workloads to where they are best suited, moving data and compute closer to businesses, people and things. You can visualize how this may look in the diagram below, where information processing is located where it makes the most sense.

Colocation data centers are a natural fit for this mesh infrastructure, where cloud and network service provider-neutral nodes deliver compute and interconnection. In the mesh, data can be strategically managed for enhanced performance, lower cost and regulatory compliance, while security guardrails can be put in place for greater control.

At Equinix, we see customers pushing applications in more and more places across the world, making distributed architecture the de facto norm. To support our customers’ distributed and increasingly hybrid (physical and virtual) IT infrastructures, we provide points of metro aggregation and interconnection. We describe this by saying, “We enable our customers to access all the right places, partners and possibilities…” because proximity is dependent upon where, who and when you’re trying to connect to.

Kris, Sanjay and I discussed how delivering these capabilities to our customers must include creating and interconnecting foundational digital infrastructure at the metro edge, deploying edge-to-cloud control and security, and orchestrating for edge applications.

Interconnected infrastructure at the metro edge

At Equinix, we’re seeing more diversity and heterogeneity at the edge with our customers. They are looking at how to move applications into far-flung areas or in metros that may have different providers or diverse sets of architecture. In many cases, applications are actually driving a specific technology, such as a movement toward accelerators for machine learning and smart networking. Being able to place workloads in the right location, connected to the right partners, and orchestrated for control and security is becoming a critical capability for enterprises.

This is why at Equinix we continue to expand our colocation footprint of 220+ data centers in 56 metros around the world. It is also why we have invested in our Equinix Metal™ platform to provide automated, interconnected bare metal infrastructure on-demand. This gives our customers a choice of foundational infrastructure ꟷ call it the “concrete” ꟷ at the edge, where workload and technology meet.

Agility and control

During our discussion, Kris and Sanjay pointed out two big fundamentals behind running whatever you want wherever you want it: agility and control.

We all agreed that orchestration is going to be critical to delivering a high level of agility in modern, distributed application architectures. According to Gartner report 2021 Strategic Roadmap for Edge Computing, “Through 2022, a lack of standards or broadly accepted architectures for edge computing will ensure that over 85% of enterprises will deploy multiple incompatible technology stacks.”[ii] This means that greater management, automation and orchestration will be needed up and down the entire stack, or as Sanjay suggests, “…an end-to-end software application life cycle ꟷ almost like a supply chain for how software is distributed to these different cloud and edge locations.”

In terms of cloud and edge application orchestration, Bob asked Kris, “What are the potential consequences to business, to society, if we don’t get this right?”

“This is something we talk about with our customers a lot,” said Kris. “We often use the edge as a marker for the infrastructure we use when latency is the driver of the strategy. It’s about moving the code and the data closer to users to beat the speed of light. The edge adds this interesting new dimension to this orchestration, and that is proximity. How close do we want to get? And how do we trade off that proximity with other factors like resilience or reliability, or footprint size and scale.”

Then there is the ability to control and secure your network infrastructure, especially when accessing the hyperscale world with partners such as AWS, Azure and Alibaba. Getting this right is extremely powerful and we see it as a major game changer over the next 10 – 15 years when it comes to accessing applications and data center services.

When it came to the question of how to provide edge-to-cloud security and control, Sanjay explained that “the underlying tenant of a security architecture that VMware recommends is zero trust, which means that before you allow something, somebody or some application to do what it needs to do, you first have to verify the posture of the device. You’ve got to verify the privilege and then you allow that particular association. And that association only lasts for as long as you can check what the device, the posture or the privilege is… even if there’s intermittent connectivity.”

Delivering digital infrastructure for a changing world

We see a massive investment in technology from all industries and even in our own lives. That is naturally bringing a huge amount of diversity to IT infrastructures at the edge, along with emerging edge architectures and infrastructure paradigms.

As the world’s digital infrastructure company, we’re listening to our customers and our partners and, as technology evolves, we’re delivering global reach and interconnected ecosystems with greater agility. For example, as we see our customers considering cloud-out and edge-in architectures, we’re providing them the foundation that supports both cloud-native and edge-native workloads. This gives digital leaders a global platform to create and interconnect foundational digital infrastructure on-demand. Because as we all know, somebody’s got to pour the concrete!

Diving deeper into the edge

The Equinix webinar featuring Gartner covered many more deep-dives into the edge such as bare metal as a fundamental building block, zero trust security, 5G and NextG networks, and edge-in versus cloud-out architectures. Go to “What Is at the Edge and Why Does Proximity Matter?” to see the webinar in its entirety.

You also may want to read Gartner report  2021 Strategic Roadmap for Edge Computing and The Power of Proximity.


[i] Equinix webinar featuring Gartner, “What Is at the Edge and Why Does Proximity Matter?,” Bob Gill, March 16, 2021.

[ii] Gartner, “2021 Strategic Roadmap for Edge Computing,” Bob Gill, 3 November 2020 .

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Zac Smith Former Global Head of Edge Infrastructure Services
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