Moving towards a defined reference architecture for Edge Computing - Equinix and others are beginning to focus on the need for a robust reference model for the whole IoT, Edge, 5G environment

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You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at…” is the opening line of Jeff Beck’s 1967 hit single, Hi Ho Silver Lining. I know, I am showing my age, but I thought it applied well to the current state of Edge Computing. Everyone is talking about the Edge, and it seems that no self-respecting product family is without an Edge offering. The IT industry has a history of getting really excited and overheated about ideas, and the Edge seems to be no exception.

So, I was not surprised when I heard Equinix talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Edge at a recent event. But, despite their growth and global coverage, I didn’t immediately equate them with Edge Computing…at least those elements right out at the Edge. Certainly, their global interconnectivity capabilities and direct access to hundreds of different cloud providers give them a credible, even leading role, in facilitating the back-end requirements of fast cloud access, large-scale data analytics and network security that the growth in network traffic and data handling of IoT and other Edge based devices demands.

On the other hand, I was unaware, and therefore a little sceptical, about their role and importance nearer to the Edge devices themselves. So, I met with Petrina Steele, the Equinix Strategy Lead for IoT in EMEA. Much of what we discussed served merely to reinforce my positive opinion on their strengths in handling a lot of the backhaul comms, cloud interconnectivity, data handling and security that will be needed. But it is clear that Equinix have been doing their homework. They have a clear understanding of the various use cases for Edge based IoT devices. They have strong traditional links with the telco and network operators and can see at first-hand how they are facing up the challenges and opportunities posed by the new environment.

For me, the most important thing is the way that Equinix and others are beginning to focus on the need for a robust reference architecture or model for the whole IoT, Edge, 5G environment….how do the different type of edge devices, with their different use cases connect to the access networks and field gateways; what are the requirements for backhaul; what happens between the Edge and the Cloud gateway; what delivery networks and cloud platforms will be used.

It’s not just Equinix thinking about the reference architecture. At Packet, the bare metal cloud provider, ex-Equinix CTO, Ihab Tarazi, is also focused on building out a model for Edge computing. Packet have a very specific view of what the Edge is…the edge of the last mile network. By that, they mean “the segment of a telecommunications network that connects the service provider to the customer.” Whatever architecture or model that finally emerges, the common view is that Enterprises will need help pulling together the complex eco-system of device vendors, network providers, data centre operators, cloud service providers and others, to deliver the capabilities required to make the vision of a truly interconnected, edge-to-edge, industrial environment a reality.

As Petrina Steele pointed out, Equinix already has a track record of creating very successful eco-systems that have driven new relationships and sector growth. Think Financial Services, Telcos and Media Content Providers, the implication being, of course, that Equinix is well placed to do this in the IoT/Edge space. It remains to be seen how much of this reference architecture Equinix envisages being delivered by eco-system partners and how much it wants to get involved in directly beyond its existing market offerings. I’ll circle back later in the year to find out about that.

For the moment Enterprise customers still have to grapple with a market where the Edge means almost whatever you want it mean and where they might be lulled into thinking that they are already “doing” Edge computing. Getting a sensible reference architecture in place that a significant number of Edge players buy into, will go a long way to help Enterprises make the right Edge investment decisions and place themselves at the forefront of the step-changes we expect to see in business models and productivity over the next few years.