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Gartner: Just what is the edge and who defines it?

09 Sep 2017

Article by Ted Chamberlin, Gartner analyst

Once again, the battle for owning the architecture/marketecture and definition of a buzzword is on. Like donkey kong.  As an analyst that covers cloud, colocation, content delivery network (CDN) and a bit of Internet of Things (IoT), software-defined networking (SDN) and WAN, I have a VIP seat for the battle.  The contestants are colocation, CDN, cloud, WAN, IoT enablers and mobile operators and they all think they are the missing link to building the edge.

Colocation providers - Most have displaced the public peering points to become THE interconnection destinations. That sounds a bit like the network core and most locations are in large, urban locations. Not exactly the physical edge, but more akin to the logical edge. We will also continue to see providers begin to build and deploy purpose-built micro data cenres closer to IoT networks and aggregation points. CDN providers - These providers can legitimately claim to define the edge as that is their DNA. CDN architecture dictates edge nodes be deployed in a highly distributed manner. CDNs also take load of the origin and enable APIs and business logic to sit as close to data as possible. Watch for CDN providers to exploit their inherent architecture to enter IoT use cases like OTA updates and AI and analytics edge processing. CSPs - Both mobile and fixed operators have seen edge as a way to remain relevant in a cloudy world. Most CSPs have chased early m2m applications like ehealth, connected cars and connected homes. They have learned the hard lessons of investments in technologies that have ill-defined return on investment (ROI). Their next ventures will lead them to exploit innovation developed in their labs and to more “Smart” initiatives.

So here is the cop-out answer; each service/node/destination can and will be an edge location. That is because the edge is not just a discrete IP address or instance on a VM or  square tile in a data centre. It's arguably a purpose-built platform that is nimble, agile and can ingest data and provide a framework to make a decision on those packets. To quote my colleague Bob Gill’s take on edge:

Not a bad starting point to define an extremely hard to find concept.

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