Cloud at the Edge

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Bringing cloud computing resources to the edge of the network

In this blog post, the terms “Cloud at the Edge,” “Edge Cloud,” and “Next-Gen Cloud” are used interchangeably. Most of us are familiar with the following cloud computing environments:

  • Private cloud: Access is limited to members of an enterprise and partner networks.
  • Public cloud: Access to standardized resources—like infrastructure, multi-tenant hardware, and services, is available to subscribers on a pay-per-use basis
  • Hybrid cloud: The use of multiple public and private cloud computing services by an enterprise.
  • Multicloud: Enterprise uses a combination of on-premise, private cloud, and public cloud components.

We can now add Cloud at the Edge or Edge Cloud to that list, bringing cloud computing resources to the edge of the network or to where the traffic is.

Edge Cloud

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is a network architecture concept that offers cloud computing capabilities with an IT service environment at the edge of the network. The basic idea there is running applications and performing related processing tasks closer to the cellular customer. This, in turn, reduces network latency and congestion, thus allowing apps to perform better.

With the advent of 5G, that same paradigm can be applied to cloud computing when it comes to connected devices. The first hop from smart devices, mobile phones, connected cars, drones, robots, etc. would not be to the large public clouds, but rather to something closer. This would be the Edge Cloud operating at the edge of the network. It would mitigate the latency issue and offer more security among other things.

5G: What and why

5G (from 5th Generation) is the latest generation of cellular mobile communications. 5G promises a high data rate, reduced latency, energy saving, cost reduction, higher system capacity, and massive device connectivity. The aspects that 5G brings also happen to be the challenges with current cloud computing—namely network latency, an inability to fully support all mobile scenarios, an inability to meet the real-time requirements of large-scale sensor networks, insufficient bandwidth for all mobile devices, and security concerns.

In one of my previous posts, I had mentioned the computing power needed to analyze data from the multitude of sensors and the unprecedented amount of data generated by Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It puts tremendous strain on the Internet, and the latency of going to a large cloud is not acceptable in the era of connected cars. 5G is supposed to offer up 10 Gbps throughput, 1 ms latency, and hundreds of billions of links.

The next-gen cloud computing

Edge computing (originally coined as “fog computing” by Cisco) is an extension of the existing cloud where the smaller infrastructure components are distributed at the edge of the network. It facilitates the operation of end devices by acting as the relay to meet the needs of high-speed IoT devices, thus reducing the bandwidth load of the network core.

Cloudlets are a concept in edge computing that are basically small-scale clouds. They act as offloading units for low-latency demands for emerging sensor-based and real-time streaming applications.

Edge computing promises to bring storage and computing capabilities closer to mobile users, leveraging existing devices to reduce latencies and core network utilization. Cloudlets promise to be well-connected microdata centers at the edge of the network, based on container technology but not offering much storage. They would “localize” the speed for data transmission and computations required by IoT, mobile, and connected devices. The envisioned topology is shown in the figure below.

Deployment of next-gen cloud

The figure depicts a handful of major cloud providers today—Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Alibaba. In the future, there could be many new cloud providers at the edge. Their services will have to support, at a much more granular level, numerous Cloudlets. Cloudlets could be hosted on public buildings, within coffee shops, atop traffic camera,s and even on existing cellular towers, creating a mesh of mini-clouds.

Cloudlets are supposed to offer low latency and high bandwidth. The emergence of 5G cellular networks and the deployment of Cloudlets will together create the technology platform for the next-gen cloud that will be the Cloud at the Edge. Watch for this cloud computing option to become part of extended multicloud solutions.

IBM’s leadership position in hybrid, multicloud solutions allows it to provide Edge Cloud services. With containers at the core of IBM Cloud—be it in IBM Cloud Private or IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service—the ability to connect with and manage Cloudlets seems plausible. Management of these resources and devices will be key, and that is where I envision a product like IBM Multicloud Manager could be used (with some new features and extensions).

I would like to know what you think.

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Executive Cloud Architect - Cloud Adoption and Transformation

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