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What is Edge Computing and What Makes it Unique?

“Edge computing” is one of the latest buzzwords in our industry, and like other overused words, the definition can be quickly lost. Many people face similar confusion with terms like “cloud;” what cloud means can vary from person to person or organization to organization. Is the cloud a physical location? Is it a concept? An organizational process?

In order to demystify edge computing, I’d like to share how VMware thinks about it. We’ve spoken with end-users at IT organizations of all sizes, industry analysts, and internal experts to arrive at how we think about the edge.

Edge Computing is (Almost) Everywhere

First, it can be helpful to define edge computing by what it is not. Edge computing is not the core data center, where the majority, or at least the highest concentration of an organization’s IT infrastructure resides. Core data centers are a single, central location for IT resources. Edge computing is also not a public cloud deployment, as public clouds are another centralized location for IT resources, but managed by a provider, not the IT organization. Edge computing, as VMware defines it, is distributed digital infrastructure for running workloads across a multitude of locations, placed close to users and devices producing and consuming data. Edge computing can encompass a wide variety of deployment types, each with different needs. Below are just a few locations where you can find edge deployments:

  • Remote office/branch office (ROBO)
  • Factories
  • Retail outlets
  • Smart buildings
  • Transportation, such as a ship

As I’m sure you can tell from this list, edge computing requirements can vary quite a bit, with a regional office’s needs quite different from a smart building or a ship.

Edge Computing Is Growing Rapidly

The pandemic accelerated IT investment in both the public cloud and at the edge. New digital goods and services enabled organizations of all sizes to adapt to rapidly changing requirements, from enabling employees to work from home to assisting local and national governments with contact tracing. A good portion of the IT infrastructure required for these applications was deployed at the edge. According to IDC, worldwide IT spending on the edge is expected to grow by an 18.7% CAGR through 20251. In addition, the majority of IT organizations expect to increase investment in the edge, with an average increase of 38%, a far higher rate of investment than many resources in the core data center1. Due to that higher investment, IDC expects investment in edge computing to grow the overall server share from the core data center to the edge by nearly a factor of two1. In just three years, edge computing is expected to account for 28.2% of total servers deployed at the core data center and edge locations1.

graphs indicating what is edge computing and recent spending

Source: IDC Directions, Edge as the Runway for Digital First Operations, DR2022_T1_JC, March 2022

Edge Computing Has Unique Challenges

As you can imagine, edge deployments present some unique challenges. Customers are using edge deployments for a wide variety of applications, from traditional enterprise applications for office work to modern applications, such as AI/ML. Edge deployments need the capabilities to support both application types on a single infrastructure, and they need a flexible storage solution that can accommodate a broad set of applications with rich data services and native block and file services. Edge infrastructure can span thousands of deployments, so organizations need a solution that provides remote, centralized management with zero touch provisioning. Organizations are often concerned with security at edge locations, so they need an infrastructure with intrinsic security throughout. Finally, edge deployments often run on small form factor hardware in environments that don’t have traditional data center infrastructure. The ability to use alternative connectivity, for instance, with wi-fi or cellular networks, is needed.

In closing, edge computing is growing rapidly, as organizations deploy infrastructure close to where data is being created. Edge deployments have unique challenges, including storage. New infrastructure options, such as hyperconverged infrastructure, can help organizations manage the unique challenges that come from edge deployments.

Next Steps

To learn more about edge infrastructure requirements, read up on VMware’s Edge Compute Stack.

To see how VMware hyperconverged infrastructure can help meet edge computing challenges, visit TechZone.

1Source: IDC Directions, Edge as the Runway for Digital First Operations, DR2022_T1_JC, March 2022