How Edge Computing is Revolutionizing the Telecom Industry
What is Edge Computing?
Edge Computing is defined by Gartner as-
“a part of a distributed computing topology in which information processing is located close to the edge – where things and people produce or consume that information.”
Going by Gartner’s definition, edge computing is a process focused on doing computing at or as close to the source of data as possible for reducing latency and bandwidth use. To put it in simple words, in edge computing data processing is done on the device itself or by a local computer, server or an IoT device, rather than being transmitted to a data centre (cloud). The purpose of edge computing or MEC is to bring real-time, high-bandwidth, low-latency access to latency-dependent applications, distributed at the edge of the network.
A Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) moves the networking, compute, and storage functionality from a centralized cloud to the edge of the network. There are a number of use cases that are realized which include, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), connected cars, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications that rely on high performance and optimum utilization of network resources.
Key Drivers for Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)
IoT, 4G networks, and next generation 5G networks are the key drivers for edge computing. Exponential growth in traffic, especially video, and the explosion of mobile and IoT devices mean that the network infrastructures will need to scale up effectively to deliver higher volumes of data. MEC brings the flexibility and agility of the cloud closer to the customer location to meet these demands.
What is in there for Telecommunication Service Providers?
There are quite a few compelling use cases for the edge computing that Telecommunication Service Providers see as a revenue opportunity and value addition to their customer experience. It’s not just about improving the customer experience; it’s also about substantial savings in terms of CAPEX, OPEX, transport, backhaul cost, and leases.
Use Case: Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE)
When a consumer or an enterprise requests a service (like Firewall, Routing, set-top box, or DPI Box, etc.) from the service provider, it often needs a special piece of hardware equipment that should be shipped, plugged in and configured for each service request. Universal Customer Premise Equipment or uCPE can replace that hardware with a generic x86 on which you can run each of these applications as virtual functions. The below diagram illustrates the deployment of uCPE in a Network functions virtualization (NFV) environment.
This transformation from a physical to a virtualized platform can be challenging, but the implications of this transformation are huge. You can also deploy this in a self-service fashion. As part of deployment in a self-service fashion the customer is given a portal where he can log in, select the location where he/she wants the service, select the function that he/she wants to run, pay for it and get the virtual function downloaded, and configured in a few minutes.
Not All Edge are the Same
The size and technology of the edge nodes will vary from one use case to another. As mentioned in the earlier section, uCPE uses a small x86 based server, while mobility for that matter will use vRAN with a few racks of server in a central location. They all access different kinds of information and run in different contexts.
The Way Forward for Edge Computing Deployments
Though there are plenty of examples of edge deployments already in progress around the world, edge computing today works with a reduced level of functionality and on a smaller scale. Widespread adoption of edge deployments will require new ways of thinking to solve emerging as well as already existing challenges and limitations.
The edge computing platform must be, by design, much more fault tolerant and robust than a traditional data center centric cloud, in terms of the hardware as well as the platform services that support the application lifecycle. We cannot assume that such edge use cases will have the maintenance and support facilities that standard data center infrastructure does. Therefore, zero-touch provisioning and automation orchestration for the infrastructure and platform stacks will be crucial for enterprise grade solution deployments.
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