Edge vs Cloud? It’s the wrong question for best-practice ICT strategy

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Cloud – whether public, private or hybrid cloud– experienced a massive surge of adoption over the past 18 months, serving as a critical component during pandemic-fuelled digital transformation and remote working functions.

According to IDC, worldwide public cloud services totalled US$312 billion in 2020, representing 24.1 per cent year over year growth compared to 2019.  Although not to be outdone, the edge computing market is also experiencing a significant surge in adoption, with IDC predicting that edge spending will hit $250 billion in 2024.

This has escalated conversations about how the two models will be placed in the foreseeable future, amid promises that edge will decentralise IT infrastructure and pave the way for things like “fog computing”, where even more processing power is placed at the edge. 

However, enterprises shouldn’t be asking the question of whether edge computing will replace any of its cloud infrastructure, but rather how the two can co-exist and supplement each other to deliver increased value to customers. 

The rise of edge

The definition of edge computing isn’t completely clear cut, but it essentially refers to bringing processing power closer to where data is being captured, at the edge.

This could involve arming IoT devices with an intelligence capability, or simply moving more compute, network, and storage functionality to locations outside of ‘core’, centralised data centres (such as public clouds).

Organisations have been leaning on edge to support low latency use cases, deployments in remote locations, and enable new products and services. 5G has been a major catalyst for edge adoption in recent years, as it supports large-scale IoT and edge compute networks with stable, high bandwidth connections.

Advances in application containerisation technologies (i.e. the breaking up of apps into smaller, interconnected, ‘chunks’) has also supported the uptake of edge compute, as containers require less storage and are more easily distributed. We’ve also come a long way when it comes to implementing consistent security controls across these distributed environments, putting minds at ease from a risk standpoint.

Edge is picking up momentum across a few key industries, with use cases including inventory management systems in retail and improving patient outcomes through telemedicine edge functionality. It’s also being widely used across telecommunications, enabling providers to deliver edge compute services closer to data sources, with combined propositions that incorporate 5G and IoT technologies.

A 2020 study by HPE Aruba found that 72 per cent of IT decision-makers are already actively using edge technologies to deliver new outcomes, with a further 16 per cent planning to do so in 2021.

“Edge computing has massive potential to streamline and improve the way that businesses can create and roll out their digital applications and services,” said Nikos Katinakis, Group Executive, Networks & IT at Telstra in a recent blog.

“By pushing compute power to the edge of our network, closer to our customers and their devices, we can enable lower latency communications and higher bandwidth, making some new applications possible that are limited by those constraints today.”

What does the future hold?

Some analysts have positioned edge computing as an alternative to cloud, displacing centralised data centres with a more distributed model of processing power. While edge will undoubtedly serve as a critical component of enterprise ICT strategies, it’s not likely to ever supplant cloud altogether.

As noted in an FCC whitepaper on 5G edge computing whitepaper: “Many industry experts are pushing back on the notion that cloud and edge computing are in competition with each other. Instead, forward-looking organisations and, even many public cloud service providers, are beginning to consider how to selectively employ both.”

Cloud will continue to be useful for a wide range of use cases, with large amounts of data still flowing to centralised locations for things like big data processing and analytics, with critical, time-sensitive functions handled by the edge.

Hyperscale cloud providers are even supporting edge frameworks, developing solutions such as distributed cloud services to bring their cloud capabilities closer to the edge. According to Gartner, 20 per cent of installed edge computing platforms will be delivered and managed by hyperscale cloud providers, an increase from 1 per cent in 2021.

This raises challenges for organisations around how to build, scale, and manage their edge deployments. Considering the diverse range of applications, data, and infrastructure that edge incorporates – and the fact it will needs to be seamlessly connected with cloud workloads – it can be tough for businesses to manage things purely through internal teams.

Through our Cloud Adoption Framework, Telstra Purple partners with organisations to build a cloud and edge strategy that’s aligned with business objectives. As a managed services provider, we can also take ownership of these environments and help organisations manage their day-to-day IT operations, alleviating pressure, freeing up resources, and helping to manage skill shortages.  

This will help facilitate a balanced edge approach that incorporates the ongoing importance of cloud, ensuring you’re getting the best of what edge computing has to offer and maximising innovation.  

This article is part of a 5-part series, first appearing on the Australian Chamber of Singapore’s weekly newsletter in August 2021.  Look out for the next upcoming articles on:

Article 1 - Four key digital transformation trends have evolved

Article 2 - Why the private data centre is persisting in 2021

Article 3 - Cyber business risk is the next frontier

Article 4 - Edge vs cloud? It’s the wrong question for best-practice ICT strategy

Article 5 - Managed services are pivotal for alleviating the skills gap