Defining the Edge

As talk of the edge heats up, many stakeholders want you to know that they’re already there, geographically speaking. Telecom providers, content delivery networks, and commercial datacenters all sit in places that could already be defined as “the edge.”

All these players were poised for a metaphorical land grab—really a market-share grab—at the edge in 2020. Coronavirus might put a dampener on some of those plans, but they won’t go away, particularly in the case of multi-tenant datacenter operators. Many of them have a long-term interest in making the edge happen.

In that context, we’re talking about a particular kind of edge. We need language to distinguish between the device edge (embedded sensors and end-user devices) and the Internet edge (multi-tenant datacenters). To that end, at 451 Research we have divided the “edge” concept into multiple species and subspecies, grouped by distance from the end user. The model leaves room for the ambiguity of the real world, because some entities such as content delivery networks overlap the boundaries of the five major species.

So why are datacenters so locked in on serving the Internet edge? It’s partly because they are betting heavily on enterprise business. Some large enterprises already make heavy use of the commercial datacenters’ footprint, creating distributed IT architectures to complement, or even replace, what they could do in the public cloud. These enterprises are in the minority, though. According to 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise, only 30% of enterprises rent colocation space.

The pitch from these operators—including Equinix, Interxion, Digital Realty, Flexential and many others—is that their datacenters could be home to the newly distributed enterprise IT. They tout interconnection as an agile way to reach the clouds and SaaS services that the enterprise relies on. And with colocation, the enterprise can have a home for data without worrying about cloud egress fees, which could add up considerably as the enterprise’s data trove grows. The plans are lofty but remember, some enterprises are already using datacenters this way. The challenge for datacenter operators is to turn those practices mainstream.

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