27 April 2018
| Gareth Willmer
Demand for low-latency and real-time insights mean applications are moving closer to the edge. Gareth Willmer explores how this will impact the wholesale industry
The internet of things (IoT) is creating the need for low
latency and real-time insights closer to the user, meaning a
greater need for data processing out towards the edge of the
network. With 5G coming up, this will also mean more of a need
for such developments.
Over the coming years, these trends are set to alter the
distribution of data processing. Gartner, for example, predicts
that the proportion of enterprise-generated data created and
processed outside a traditional centralised data centre or
cloud will rise from about 10% now to 50% by 2022 and 75% by
In line with this, the research company believes
communications service providers should take an approach that
fosters an open ecosystem for edge, which in the short term
should address "well-defined, targeted vertical use cases", and
later evolve to meet the needs of a 5G topology.
And specific edge data centre providers, such as EdgeConneX
and Vapor IO, have in recent years been rolling out facilities
to meet edge demands. "For us, the edge is wherever it needs to
be," says Phill Lawson-Shanks, chief innovation officer at
EdgeConneX. "We build the infrastructure for the service so the
customers can get to the edge."
The facilities are then swift to build with the
company’s modular design for data centres.
"We’re very bespoke, nimble and agile," says
Lawson-Shanks. EdgeConneX aims to create ecosystems for
partners, so that they see extra value as these facilities
become a magnet for data customers.
One of the key things for Telia Carrier, says
Fridström, is that EdgeConneX was building in places where
there used to be no data centres, and teaming up with them
would help expansion outside the traditional major markets.
"There’s no need to have every data centre in
Ashburn any more," says Fridström. "That’s
what EdgeConnex is taking advantage of – building them
where others haven’t built before, and therefore
being closer to where the data is consumed."
Fridström also foresees a growing demand in the current
climate for looking to places such as the Nordics, where there
is an abundance of cheap and green power, no earthquakes and a
cool climate ideal for data centres – describing the
region as a "sweet spot" for future data centres.
EdgeConneX, meanwhile, also recently unveiled its first edge
data centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina – comprising a
multi-tenant carrier-neutral facility with an ecosystem of
partners. This is aimed at helping provide underserved areas in
South America with high-quality, low-latency content delivery,
cloud access and international connectivity. The company also
plans further expansion to countries such as Chile and
Micro data centres
Webscale content companies are looking at markets such as
Argentina as a huge opportunity, says Lawson-Shanks.
"It’s not an emerging market, it’s
already there – but they just need to get their stuff
to it faster and more effectively."
Another edge player is Vapor IO, a US company that provides
hardware and software for the rapid deployment of edge data
centres. Founder and CEO Cole Crawford says the evolving
picture is that third parties such as Vapor IO will deploy
shared infrastructure in the form of neutral data centre
facilities able to accommodate many tenants, which will bring
new applications and services to carriers and introduce new
business models. "For example, it will be possible for a
carrier to spin up extra capacity and deploy new services at a
moment’s notice, without expending any capital,"
An example of this is the forthcoming 5G-as-a-Service
offering that Vapor IO has just announced, which will allow
players to lease 5G capabilities on demand without deploying
any equipment. Last year, the company also unveiled Project
Volutus, an initiative in conjunction with partners such as
wireless infrastructure provider Crown Castle to build the
world’s largest network of distributed edge micro
data centres at the base of cell towers.
"Many carriers will decide not to roll out their own data
centres and will instead contract with third parties like Vapor
IO’s Project Volutus to lease data centre
capacity, rather than build and operate their own in thousands
of locations," says Crawford. He believes that this kind of
micro data centre approach will be necessary for telcos that
want to deliver low-latency edge.
One big benefit of this set-up is savings of "billions of
dollars" on long-distance backhaul, he adds. "We predict that
by 2020, the top 100 major metropolitan areas in the US will be
served by dozens of edge data centres like ours."
Products and places
Other players are meanwhile expanding their data centre
reach into new places and launching new products to help users
get closer to the edge. In recent months, Interoute has, for
instance, announced the opening of new virtual data centres in
Sydney, Australia, and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It also launched
an Edge SD-WAN service that intelligently optimises data flows
so that traffic takes the fastest and most direct route,
reducing latency compared.
"The driver for [these moves] has been effectively being
able to deploy sophisticated virtual network functions, as well
as a bit of local IT for customers who are increasingly
global," says Mark Lewis, Interoute EVP for products and
development. He adds that with the SD-WAN service, the company
takes an important role for its customer because it becomes
more part of the IT fabric.
Separately, Equinix is leveraging its network based on
interconnection as a key differentiator amid the rise of the
edge. "The team in EMEA is looking to increase the overall rate
of interconnection in our region, and that’s going
to be very important as things like edge computing and new
technologies come along," says Brenden Rawle, head of
interconnection at Equinix.
In addition, he points to the digital ecosystems springing
up in its data centres in areas such as broadcast media,
healthcare, insurance and e-commerce. "These are really a
reflection of that move of data from centralised IT to more
distributed points of interconnection."
And Andrew Fray, managing director
UK at Interxion, says his company provides a great location for
the "connected" edge, where enterprises require multiple
carriers to deliver global content to clouds and local
Meanwhile, some carriers have been turning some offices to
become miniature data centres in a bid to move towards the
edge, under a strategy known as central office rearchitected as
a data centre (CORD). A recent survey of 20 global service
providers by research company IHS Markit found that in 2018,
85% of respondents plan to create or will have already deployed
such smart central offices.
This is something that CenturyLink has been working on for a
few years in some locations, says James Feger, vice president
of network virtualisation at the company. He says that the
strategy has been so far to deploy in "in-between" areas that
both provide a lot of scale and have proximity to the edge, but
the edge will move further out over time. "By going where we
have gone, it gives us the ability to determine which central
offices could benefit from this infrastructure," he says.
Meanwhile, Joseph Campbell, co-chief technologist at
T-Systems, says there will be a need for industry players to
look at different types of edge. "If you’re
processing Pokemon Go at a cellphone tower, it’s
going to be one thing versus a cracking operation at a
refinery." He says one place where his company sees the edge
emerging first is at locations such as oil refineries and
manufacturing plants, where there tend to be "tons" of sensors.
"The plant is the new data centre," he says.
The rise of the edge does not, however, mean that
centralised hyperscale facilities will be usurped, say
observers. "They will not be replacing hyperscale data centres;
they will largely become extensions of hyperscale data
centres," says Vapor IO’s Crawford. "The internet
of the future will be increasingly multi-tiered."
"One thing remaining constant is the fact that the demands
for bandwidth and connectivity aren’t slowing
down," says Carl Grivner, CEO of Colt Technology Services
– adding that Colt provides a wide scale for partners
requiring both connections to large-scale data centres and edge
facilities, through its global reach with its IQ Network
connecting to more than 850 data centres.
The trend towards edge means that "telcos need to have both
the ultra-high bandwidth connections that are going to large
central aggregation points, but also a network that has local
capillaries in major cities to connect edge compute and storage
locations", says Grivner. However, he agrees that the need to
connect hyperscale facilities will remain, because data will
still need to be backhauled to a central aggregation point to
be further manipulated in a centralised, secure and resilient
"Take the example of connected cars," he says. "The cars in
a zone of the city will need to communicate to [do things such
as] optimise traffic flow [and] avoid accidents. This can be
managed from an edge compute device for the local area. But a
synopsis of that data would be backhauled to a central compute
and aggregation point to manage traffic flow between zones or
around the city. This might backhaul on to another aggregation
point for the region or the country."
With technologies such as IoT and 5G in their early stages,
it’s not easy to know how far out the edge might
ultimately go. But that looks set to evolve as the business
cases become clearer in the future data-oriented