What does Edge Data Center mean to your Business?

Written By: Nate Mechtel

The technology industry is littered with buzz-words. “Digitization,” “Cloud,” and “IoT” appear to be at the tip of many IT professionals (and executives) these days. Yet each of the preceding buzzwords are technologically enabled by yet another buzzword: “Edge Computing.”

This article is meant to provide a brief explanation of how we define “Edge Computing,” but more importantly to discuss and review the physical implications of the Edge, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid.

Edge Defined:
Since buzzwords by nature are imprecise, we must first briefly define what we are referring to.
“Edge computing pushes applications, data and computing power (services) away from centralized points to the logical extremes of a network.
To ensure acceptable performance of widely dispersed distributed services, large organizations typically implement edge computing by deploying Web server farms with clustering. Previously available only to very large corporate and government organizations, edge computing has utilized technology advances and cost reductions for large-scale implementations have made the technology available to small and medium-sized businesses. The target end-user is any Internet client making use of commercial Internet application services.” (Source: Wikipedia)

In layman’s terms, this means that Edge computing is everywhere. In a practical sense, Edge Computing is driving changes in the following IT environments:

• IDFs
• MDFs
• Wiring Closets
• Technology Room
• Server Room
• ER
• Telco Closet

As more organizations move their Data and Processing to Colo and Cloud, we’re finding that many on-premise data centers need to be downsized or re-purposed to serve as an Edge Data Centers. Based on reports and analytics by research firms including 451 Group, Gartner & Blue Canyon, it is estimated that there are several million Edge IT Environments.

Edge Importance:
It cannot be emphasized enough how significant Edge rooms are to an organization and the services that are simply assumed to operate reliably and speedily to ensure optimal employee and client satisfaction.
For a moment, think about how annoying it is when your laptop or smartphone lose wireless service for even a few minutes. While it’s possible that the issue could be related to the personal device itself, the most frequent culprit in our experience is a failure somewhere between where the Data Resides (such as Colo or Cloud) and where it is consumed (user). For the most part, the Edge is what enables or prohibits access to data. It is crucial for any business to operate.

As IoT continues to drive more devices on the network, this will only increase the importance of Edge environments. One notable example is the dramatic increases in power available via Power Over Etherenet (POE) devices. Over the last decade or so, we have seen the power available per port grow from 4W per RJ-45 port, to 60W per port. The road map from major switch vendors will result in nearly 100W per device. This means that more devices will run on networks, but more power will need to be available in Edge Environments. More power will require more cooling. And all of this will require more physical security than ever before.
What’s ironic is that virtually all Data typically resides in a highly reliable Cloud, Colo, or on-premise corporate Data Center with redundant power, cooling, generators, and security, but the networks (Edge environments) that the deliver the data are virtually the opposite. The essential feature that Edge is seeking to address, is often limited or hindered by itself. Let’s look at a few specifics.

Common Problems in Edge Environments:
The following list isn’t exhaustive, but certainly represents the most common issues the prevent Edge Environments from reliably completing the critical tasks that they need to do.
• Power – It is not uncommon for these rooms to only have one (1) 120V circuit. These circuits can easily be overloaded with even modest IT loads, and also provide no redundant power or sustainable battery protection.
• Cooling – Most often, edge rooms have either no ventilation or run off building (comfort) cooling systems. Cooling is essential for these environments, and it must be available 24×7 since IT loads are always powered on.
• Cabling/Cable Management – since Edge Rooms are usually remotely located away from where IT staff are based, it is common to see a more “relaxed” approach to cable management in these environments since they are rarely accessed. Not managing cabling in Edge rooms properly can directly cause downtime due to human error (clutter, confusion, lack of labeling, etc.) .
• Physical Security/Room Access – We often see Edge Rooms being shared with other business or building functions. For example, Edge Rooms can frequently also have janitorial tubs and hazardous chemicals, or be shared with numerous kinds of record keeping or physical storage. What makes this a severe issue is that it means there are far more people with relatively easy access to the Edge Room, but more important to get access to networks and critical data.
• Ownership – By far the biggest problem we encounter is who “owns” responsibility for Edge Data Centers. Is it IT? Is it Facilities? We find neither department budgets for these rooms, so they rarely take any responsibility when problems arise.

Solutions to Edge Problems:
So how do we solve this “ownership” question of who owns potentially dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of Edge Rooms? While there are no easy answers, the simplest answer is answering the question, “Who has to respond to the trouble ticket when there is an issue?”
Since any problems usually result in an IT hardware or application failure, then it means IT usually has to respond to the call.
There aren’t many organizations that are “fluent” and can relate to both IT and Facilities staff; but few people who can understand and communicate the shared goals between departments. Any organization seeking or needing to identify and mitigate threats in their Edge Data Centers should seek out an integration with a thorough understanding of *each* of the following:

• IT physical layers (servers, storage, & networking), with where and how they operate
• Electrical Infrastructure
• Mechanical Infrastructure
• Cabling Infrastructure
• Cyber Security – securing IoT devices that support IT environments
• Physical Security – Knowing who has access to Edge IT, when they are there, and what they are doing.

Parallel Technologies is the only single-source, technology centric provider in the region for Edge DC environments. Let’s begin by scheduling a short conversation for us to understand how your Edge IT environments are critical to your business.

Dale Klein

Dale Klein is the president and owner of Parallel Technologies. He has more than two decades of experience in technology and business leadership. He transformed Parallel Technologies from a cabling services company into a high-growth technology company by helping clients with their reliable data center and intelligent building strategies.