The digital transformation journey with Edge Computing, 5G and SD-WAN

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The digital transformation journey with Edge Computing, 5G and SD-WAN

To support 5G (fifth generation of wireless communications technologies), experts and analysts suggest that the structure of the data center needs to change; including the existing functions of routers and switches, whiles technologies like NFV (Network function virtualization) and SDN (Software-defined networking) must be introduced on a larger scale – pointing strongly to the adoption of edge computing. Gartner predicts that edge computing will account for 75% of enterprise-generated data by 2025 from 10% in 2018 [1]. Ericsson predicts that 25% of all 5G use cases will be enabled by Edge computing [2].

What is at the Edge of Edge computing

The number of applications expected to run on 5G is astonishing, as more and more 5G business cases are being explored and tested. As with most 5G use cases, huge volumes of data are expected to be processed at the edge for efficiency and cost savings. For instance, a Telco, based on analytics, may provide customized content based on the location of university campuses, shopping malls, offices and homes. Home locations may desire capacity intensive content like Netflix, whereas office locations may require less-intensive services like email, news and social media content. Uber or Tesla may have their own distributed edge data centers to track their fleet of cars or to support autonomous driving. As we move towards this highly geographically distributed mini data center ecosystem, where computing is done closer to the user/data source (aka Edge Computing), a few requirements come to mind.

  1. Collocation at the Edge: The concept of collocation in Edge computing is still relatively greenfield just as is Edge computing. It means resource sharing down to the virtual machine level or hardware level-server/storage or cabinet/pole/container sharing. Backing this with regulation will ensure a well-controlled, nuisance-free ecosystem.
  2. Connectivity for the Edge: 5G connectivity promises to offer Edge data centers with the needed low latency, high throughput and high-speed connections to the central location (core backbone) and to the clients (last mile). For instance, a vehicle tracking application that could only collect data from 100 sensors (100 cars) every 30 seconds, can now collect real-time data from 1000 even 10,000 sensors every second.
  3. Power for the Edge: Edge data centers are projected to account for 102GW of power by 2028 [3]-a huge figure that poses a lot of concern for the success of Edge computing and 5G.A number of solutions come to mind:
    • With cooling contributing about 38% to the total power consumption of a data center [4], energy efficient mini data centers that use technologies like Free Cooling may be deployed to save energy.
    • Explore more efficient server/compute allocation strategies that ensures that not all servers are running at the same time-compute optimization.
    • Collocation of resources/applications must be encouraged to lower power consumption.
  4. Management for the Edge: Think about the effort and cost in maintaining a single data center today. Now multiply that by 100, maybe 1000, even perhaps 10,000 geographically dispersed mini data centers. Regular maintenance means frequent trips to 1000 mini data centers. This brings to light the need to automate maintenance at the Edge which promises to drastically reduce human intervention that would ultimately trickle down to actual cost savings. Adding self-diagnostic and self-healing capabilities into the fabric of edge data centers will drastically reduce the associated costs with maintenance and management.

Ensuring security for the Edge

I am almost certain that 99.9% of service providers will consider physical security (high level surveillance, anti-tampering, alarming, etc.) of their mini data centers as top priority. How about cybersecurity?

The promise of 10 times faster data connectivity with 10 times lower latencies over the internet, makes cybersecurity a critical factor in the success of 5G and edge computing.

The worldwide adoption of 5G technology, which will be predominantly wireless broadband will mean that corporate networks that will rely on this technology need to adopt a security technology that is not MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) as we know it. This is where SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide-Area Network) comes in. Think of SD-WAN as connecting your very important “gold” resources – this time not through a private connection like MPLS, but through the public internet, and still providing high level security for those connections.

Deploying SD-WAN over 5G connections for enterprises is an inevitable reality. Orange and Nokia have already demonstrated this capability [5].

Concluding remarks

When you think of the 5G/data center evolution, think Edge computing and how it can enable your business propositions. And whiles discussing those business propositions, think about security. Why have costly private WAN connections for thousands and millions of Edge data centers whiles 5G offers better throughput speeds and latency. The only problem is that it will be over the internet. This is however solved with SD-WAN technology which is already here. Think of Edge computing as the enabler for highly secured, highly resilient, and low latency business cases and explore the possibilities that these technologies (Edge, 5G and SD-WAN, together with Artificial Intelligence and other concepts) bring in unison to create the perfect business model for today’s marketplace.

The possibilities are enormous; however commercial viability of the business cases must be quickly validated to understand the ecosystem better. With Telcos and hyperscale cloud providers leading the charge, we can harness the full potential of the various propositions in this promising era of 5G, Edge computing and SD-WAN.

Author: Kwadwo Akomea-Agyin; | Digital Solutions Expert & Business Analyst | Member, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana.

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[1] Van der Meulen, R. (2018, October 3). What Edge Computing Means for Infrastructure and Operations Leaders.

[2] Beyond edge computing with distributed cloud. (2020, April 6).

 [3] Fulton, S. (2020, March 24). Just How Much Energy Will Edge Data Centers Consume?

[4] Mangu, A. (2018, December 16). Managing Energy Consumption of Data Centers.

[5] Morales, F. (2019, August 5). Orange and Nokia set a world first for SD-WAN over 5G.