Will Big Tech dominate edge computing?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a global expansion of its Local Zones program, which will allow it to offer services traditionally delivered from the cloud from data centers at the edge of the network, close to its customers. While it may seem counterintuitive that the world’s largest cloud computing provider would dedicate more resources to delivering local services, the move reflects the interconnected nature of cloud and edge computing, and the extent to which Amazon and its Big Tech rivals have been major proponents of the emerging edge ecosystem.

Edge data centers are becoming more popular and big cloud providers are keen to take advantage of them (Photo Kwarkot/iStock)

Local Zones will deliver “computing, storage, database, and other AWS services at the edge of the cloud near large population, industry, and data centers,” according to the announcement. from Amazon last week. Prasad Kalyanaraman, vice president of infrastructure services at AWS, added that being closer to its customers will allow the company to deliver the on-device data processing and ultra-low latency that have long been touted. as key benefits of edge computing.

“The edge of the cloud is expanding and now becoming available virtually everywhere,” Kalyanaraman said. “AWS Local Zones will now be available in over 30 new locations worldwide, giving customers a powerful new ability to leverage cloud services in milliseconds from hundreds of millions of end users worldwide.”

The opportunity presented by edge computing is one that the biggest names in technology are unsurprisingly eager to capitalize on. Until now, AWS and its cloud rivals have dominated edge deployments, but as the technology matures, they might find they have more competition for businesses.

Big Tech and Edge Computing: The Story So Far

The AWS Local Zones program started in the United States, where 16 sites are now active. Another 32 zones in global locations will be added over the next two years, according to Amazon. So far, the UK is not on the list of sites.

AWS also offers Wavelength, a platform for product development and deployment and for the mobile edge using 5G networks. And in the US, it offers Sidewalk, a so-called “mesh” network that uses a small amount of bandwidth from Amazon smart devices, such as its Echo smart speakers, in homes and businesses to provide stable network connectivity. in urban areas for connected people. peripheral devices.

Despite concerns about its potential impact on privacy, Amazon last month announced plans to launch a “bridge” device to help expand Sidewalk into areas where smart devices are less common, such as business parks. , universities and public spaces. This suggests Amazon remains confident the network will be a hit with its customers.

The other two big players in the cloud computing market, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, both have similar plans. Google Cloud offers edge services around the world, and Microsoft is beginning to roll out its own edge zones in the United States. Azure users can also access Stack Edge, where they can order custom hardware for their edge deployments.

“We can see a trend in large technology companies to develop their own edge infrastructure to bring their cloud capabilities out of the data center to the local cloud, then to telecommunications networks and finally to customer premises,” says Alexandra Rotaru, research analyst at IDC. “The goal is to enable all types of client workloads across different edge locations where it’s more efficient and smarter to deploy, reduce costs, and improve performance through low latency.”

Big Tech’s interest in edge computing is likely driven by two key factors: the forecast of a dramatic increase in spending on edge devices and services, and the idea that enterprises will move more workloads to the edge. edge to take advantage of lower latency and increased security. In terms of spending, IDC expects global edge computing spending to reach $64 billion by 2025, when Gartner predicts that 75% of workloads will be processed on edge devices rather than in the cloud or traditional data centers.

Chris Drake, principal analyst for global IT technology and software at GlobalData, is skeptical that edge deployments will reach the level suggested by Gartner – the analyst firm predicts the edge computing market will reach 17 .8 billion by 2025 – but says it’s inevitable that the edge will play a bigger role for many companies.

“There are many workloads that will require both the edge and the cloud, especially if they involve AI algorithms that may require the cloud for training,” he said. However, he believes the cloud will continue to play a central role for business users. “We’re not going to see a takeover by the edge and a disappearance of the relevance and importance of the cloud anytime soon,” says Drake. “But some services will change and there will be a gradual evolution.”

IDC’s Rotaru agrees: “Even though the edge share might be small at first, there is a great opportunity for Big Tech companies to expand this area to include edge in their offering, as more and more customers appreciate that vendors can offer a full technology stack,” she said.

What future for Big Tech and edge computing?

While Big Tech’s early edge deployments focused on general delivery of their existing cloud services to the edge, more specialized use cases are beginning to emerge. Streaming giant Netflix was among the customers cited in Amazon’s local area announcements. The company’s designers, who previously used powerful, specialized computers, can now work on standard workstations thanks to the low latency offered by the local area perimeter network, he said.

Other industries are also looking to the potential of the periphery. “There are some exciting use cases in healthcare, the ability to quickly analyze things like colonoscopy scans to determine if a tumor is cancerous,” says Kathryn Weldon, principal analyst for mobility at business and the IoT at GlobalData. “You have a lot of consumer and entertainment stuff, and anything involving augmented or virtual reality training for businesses.”

Drake says it’s likely Big Tech companies will develop more specialized offerings for these types of use cases, while examining how they can provide more cutting-edge services in hazardous environments where connectivity is an issue.

AWS already offers its customers Snowcone, a device weighing just 2 kg that can store and process up to eight terabytes of data, and is designed for use by first responders or in harsh conditions where connectivity is limited. “This type of solution is useful for remote healthcare sites, as well as industries like mining where they might use self-driving vehicles,” he says.

Can anyone stop Big Tech from dominating edge computing?

To date, Big Tech has typically partnered with telcos and equipment vendors in its edge deployments, with the telcos providing connectivity through their products and networks, and the cloud provider providing services. . Microsoft, for example, has partnered with AT&T for the deployment of its edge zones.

According to IDC’s Rotaru, these types of partnerships are likely to remain key to the development of edge computing. “Both types of vendors have different complementary capabilities that could be combined to offer an integrated edge solution and build a common go-to-market approach,” she says. “Telecommunications providers often extend their basic communication capabilities and add edge services and have the role of connecting every sensor, machine or even person, which is essential in many use cases or workloads.”

But Big Tech companies may have other plans. Technical monitor reported on the development of cloud-native 5G, where traditional networking functions are delivered virtually from the cloud, and GlobalData’s Weldon says many telecom operators fear they will soon be cut off from the computing loop of point. “Many telcos blindly associated with cloud hyperscalers because they had talked about the wonders of 5G and only belatedly realized that half of the benefits of 5G could not be delivered without edge computing. “, she says. “Now they’re starting to worry about these partnerships because in many cases joint monetization doesn’t exist; the telco just provides the network and the hyperscaler does most of the work.”

Telecommunications equipment vendors are partnering with other technology companies. Nokia, for example, recently announced an agreement with IBM’s former managed services division, Kyndryl, in which the companies will jointly provide state-of-the-art network connectivity through private 5G networks, with Kyndryl managing the services. Drake says more traditional IT service providers are in the best position to capture a share of the cutting-edge hyperscaler market. “Companies like Dell, IBM, and Lenovo, which provide traditional data center services, place a premium on the edge,” he says. “None of them take out their [edge] still revenue, but I expect that eventually edge will be a reasonable share of revenue.”

As for new market entrants, Drake thinks that’s an unlikely prospect. “Some companies have interesting business models, offering more flexibility when it comes to cutting-edge services,” he says. “But it’s likely that if they succeed, they themselves will become acquisition targets for Big Tech companies.”

news editor

Matthew Gooding is editor for Technical monitor.

Sherry J. Basler