From the point of view of people who run data centers, “the edge” is the area of the network that more directly faces the customers. And from the perspective of people who manage the Internet and IP communications on a very low level, “the edge” is the area of their networks that more directly face their users. They’re two different vantage points, but a handful of lucrative new classes of applications — especially the Internet of Things — is compelling people to look towardsthe edges of their network once again, to determine whether it makes more sense now, both in terms of efficiency and profitability, to move computing power away from the center.
It would seem to be the antithesis of the whole “movement to the cloud” phenomenon that used to generate all the traffic on tech news sites. Cloud dynamics is about a centralization of resources, and hyperconvergence is perhaps the most extreme example.
Last year at this time, hyperconvergence seemed to be the hottest topic in the data center space. Our indicators tell us that interest in this topic has not waned. Assuming that observation is correct, how can hyperconvergence and “the edge” phenomenon be happening at the same time? Put another way, how can this reportedly relentless spiking in the demand for data be causing data centers to converge their resources and data centers to spread out their resources, simultaneously?
“I remember when ‘the cloud’ first came out, and we used to talk about, what was the cloud? And what was going to happen to all the data centers?” remarked Steven Carlini, Schneider Electric’s senior director of global solutions, in a discussion with Data Center Knowledge.
Carlini pointed to the dire predictions from 2014 and 2015 that the cloud trend would dissolve enterprise data centers as they moved their information assets into the public cloud. The “hyperscale” data centers, we were often told at the time, would become larger in size but fewer in number, swallowing enterprise facilities and leaving behind these smaller sets of components that faced the edge.
But through 2016, while those hyperscale complexes did grow larger, they refused to diminish in number. As Data Center Knowledge continues to cover on a day-by-day basis, huge facility projects are still being launched or completed worldwide: for example, just in the past few days, in Hong Kong, in Quebec, and near Washington, D.C.
The challenges that builders of these “mega-centers” face, Carlini notes, have less to do with marketing trends and much more to do with geography: specifically, whether sites being considered provide ample electricity and water. So for years, they avoided building in urban areas, in what he called “the outskirts of society.”
“What started happening was, as more and more applications went to cloud-based, people started to be more frustrated with these centralized data centers,” he continued. “So we saw a huge migration out of the enterprise data centers. All of the applications from small and medium companies, especially, that could be moved to the cloud, were moved to the cloud — the classic ones like payroll, ERP, e-mail, and the ones that weren’t integrated into the operation of manufacturing.”
As more users began trusting SaaS applications — especially Microsoft’s Office 365 — Carlini believes that performance started to become a noticeable factor in users’ computing experience once again. Files weren’t saving the way they used to with on-premise NAS arrays, or even with local hard drives.
This was one of the critical factors, he asserted, behind the recent trend by major firms to center their more regional data center projects closer to urban areas and CBDs — for example, Digital Realty’s big move in Chicago.
That’s the force precipitating the wave Carlini points to: the move to the edge where the computing power is closer to the customer. In a way, it’s a backlash against centralization not so much because of its structure but its geography.