Getting Lost at the Edge

It’s hard to read any technology blog, research report, announcement or interview without seeing the word “edge.” It’s becoming almost as commonplace as “cloud,” and can be equally confusing. The concept isn’t necessarily new, however.

Before the term “edge” caught fire, we had a long history of decentralizing applications and services—Content delivery networks (CDNs), DNS proxies and DDoS systems are all founded on the principle that the laws of large numbers (“too much” or “too many” of anything) require distribution for efficiency.

I often see “edge” used in specific contexts, such as:

  • A set of products: “Hey, look at our edge portfolio, specifically designed for the challenges YOU have at YOUR edge”
  • A physical/geographic location: “YOUR facilities are not ready to enable the edge”
  • Infrastructure transformation: “YOUR edge is dumb. We can make it SMART”
  • A new business model or service offering: “Services and applications are moving to the edge”

None of these statements are wrong, per se—which is why the conversations continue—but none of them are necessarily right, either. What do these statements actually tell us about what the edge is and what problems the edge can solve?

First, in the interest of clarity, I think about “edge” in two different contexts:

  • The access edge is a terminating point of one network (i.e., the SP) and another network (i.e., the enterprise). In this scenario, one network is using the other for access to content/services/applications. I would categorize SD-WAN and IoT as lead examples here.
  • The network edge is an aggregation point within one network (i.e., the SP). In this scenario, the network is providing a platform for content/services/applications (including network functions) to be offered to others. I would categorize edge clouds (IaaS/PaaS) and data center transformations, such as Central Office Re-Architected as Data Centers (CORD) as initiatives here.

Secondly, I think about “edge” in terms of use cases:

  • Dynamic content – “too much” localized content consumption yields new delivery model
  • Highly interactive applications – “too many” paths yields decentralized aggregation points
  • Big data business models – “too much” content yields distributed data processing
  • Security – “too many” threat vectors yields localized enforcement points
  • IoT – “too many” devices yields decentralized platforms

And there are many more (“too much” bandwidth = distribution of NFV user planes), and nuanced (“too much” power consumption = centralized Radio Access Networks) use cases.

Dell Technologies is focused on just about all of them, from joint innovation with component suppliers and solutions development with ISV partners, to industry-wide initiatives, and customer-specific architectures and engagements. The problem space is large, diverse and complex. So rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a single Dell Technologies edge strategy, we’re taking more of a market-centric approach to edge implementation.

However, rather than share (as some of our competitors have done) a proposed list of investments we plan to make or things we plan to do, I submit for your reading pleasure a (non-exhaustive) list of things Dell Technologies is actually DOING related to the “edge:”

  • Dell EMC is a leader in modular data centers (MDCs), allowing our customers to re-define where the “Edge” actually is, and putting IT where it needs to be, rather than in facilities built for where it needed to be in the past. Dell EMC delivers MDCs in different scale and form factors to best meet customer needs. These MDCs also include complete remote management capabilities.
  • Dell EMC offers a broad range of Power Edge Servers and subset of these servers are also offered in ruggedized and short-depth form factors for edge deployments, such as the Dell EMC PowerEdge XR2.
  • Dell EMC also enables accelerators based on FPGAs and GPUs that can be used to accelerate network services, analytics and customer applications at the edge.
  • Dell has an entire range of Edge Gateways specifically focused on IoT.
  • Dell is a founding member of EdgeX Foundry, focused on building a common, open framework for IoT edge computing.
  • Dell EMC Networking has launched the Virtual Edge Platform (VEP), a family of Universal CPE focused on the Access Edge, ideally suited for SD-WAN applications.
    • VMware has also acquired VeloCloud to extend its NSX technology with SD-WAN functionality.
  • Dell EMC Networking has a long history of partnering with leading wireless providers, including Aerohive and Ruckus Networks.
  • Dell EMC is a Platinum member of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), focused on delivering open reference architectures for the network (or carrier) edge.
  • VMware has introduced their Virtual Cloud Network, providing a ubiquitous software layer from data center to cloud to edge.

At Dell Technologies, “edge” is more than just a buzzword or a proposed investment, it’s part of our solutions-oriented approach. We’re ready to help you find out what problems the edge can solve for you.

About the Author: Kevin Shatzkamer

Kevin Shatzkamer is Vice President and General Manager, Service Provider Strategy and Solutions at Dell Technologies with responsibility for strategy and architectural evolution of the intersection points of network infrastructure technologies, cloud and virtualization platforms, and software programmability. His organizational responsibility encompasses industry strategy and investment analysis, business development and go-to-market activities, technical architecture and engineering, and infrastructure evolution / futures-planning. He is also responsible for leading the Dell Technologies 5G strategy in close collaboration with industry-leading telecommunications providers globally. Mr. Shatzkamer represents Dell Technologies on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Futures Council on New Network Technologies (5G-related). Mr. Shatzkamer's ecosystem-wide, experience-centric approach to working with customers allows for the identification and exploitation of synergies between disparate organizations to derive new technology / business models for the mobile industry, especially as “5G” defines transformation from technical architecture to ecosystem and service offerings. With over 20 years of industry experience, Mr. Shatzkamer joined Dell EMC in 2016, with prior experience at Brocade (Service Provider CTO, Head of Brocade Labs) and Cisco (Distinguished Systems Engineer). He holds more than 50 patents related to all areas of work. He received a Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Florida, a Master’s of Business Administration from Indiana University, and a Master’s of System Design and Management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Shatzkamer is a regular speaker at industry forums and has published two books discussing the architectures and technologies shaping the future of the Mobile Internet (2G, 3G, and 4G networks), from RAN to services.