Edge computing has been gaining much recognition and hype since I started working on it 5 years ago. I am in a fortunate position to have explored it, as an analyst, being one of the early participants of ETSI's Industry Standardization Group on Multi Access edge Computing (MEC), then develop and deploy it as an operator for Telefonica group and now, back to advising vendors and service providers on the strategies and challenges associated with its development.
One of the key challenges associated with edge computing is that pretty much every actor in the value chain (technology vendors, colocation and hosting companies, infrastructure companies, telecommunication operators, video streaming, gaming and caching services, social media and internet giants, cloud leaders...) is coming at it from a different perspective and perception of what it could (and should) do. This invariably leads to much misunderstanding, as each one is trying to understand the control points in the value chain and assert their position.
- Technology vendors see a chance to either entrench further their position, based on proprietary, early implementation or disrupt traditional vendors oligopoly, based on open (source) disaggregated networking. Traditional blue chip vendors see also a chance to move further down the path of black box networks replacement by white box.
- Colocation and hosting companies do not quite see why edge is that much different from cloud hosting that they have been doing all along, but are happy to jump on the bandwagon if it means better margins.
- Infrastructure company see a chance to move up the value chain, by providing differentiated value added real estate and connectivity services.
- Telecommunications operators tend to see edge computing as a possible opportunity to rejoin the cloud war, after having lost the last battles. The promise of futuristic 5G-like services for drones, remote surgery, autonomous cars, etc... is certainly what they have been communicating about but that is not going to materialize tangible revenue streams before 5 to 7 years. There are other short term revenues that can be created by the technology deployment.
- Video streaming, gaming and caching services feel that they have been the edge pioneers, with specialized services or physical slices, deep in cloud and teco networks. They tend to resist the move from physical, proprietary appliances towards the open, multi-tenant model that would make the business more profitable for all.
- Social media and internet giants ted to feel that there is something they should, or could do there, but most of their infrastructure relies either on their proprietary private cloud or on public clouds and it is unclear whether these models are compatible.
- At last, the cloud leaders certainly see edge computing as a growth opportunity to offer differentiated cloud services and performance, but again, they are unsure whether to push the limit of their cloud or integrate with others.
I feel that we have started from the wrong foot here. There is no such thing as edge computing. There is a cloud, and there are devices and data centers. The largest, most impactful performance move cloud can make is to integrate with the last mile - the telco networks.Where you want a workload to run, a dataset to reside, a pipeline to transit through should be the result of:
- What is available in terms of capacity
- What is your budget / needs in terms of workload, performance, latency
- How much it costs / what is the price to run where
- What are the legal / regulatory restrictions with respect to locality, sovereignty, privacy...
The rest should be easily enough programmatically calculated. For this to occur, there is still much work to be done. The "plumbing", which is how to connect and administer heterogeneous clouds is almost there. The largest effort is really for these industries to come together on the reservation, consumption and fulfillment model. We might be able to live today with Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba and Google cloud models, but we certainly won't be able to accomodate a lot more.
This means we need an industry wide effort for cloud hybridization at the business layer. It is necessary for all network operators to present the same set of APIs and connectivity services to all the cloud operators if we want to see this market move in the right direction.