The term “edge” emerged back in 2017, but the market for these types of products is still maturing. Edge platforms use distributed infrastructure to deliver content, compute, and security capabilities closer to end devices, offloading networks and improving performance. Yet the edge remains very much an evolving space and its definition can be difficult to lock down.
In a new report, titled Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Platforms, GigOm analysts Chris Grundemann and Logan Andrew Green explored this emergent sector and provided insight into the various features, criteria, and metrics that inform an assessment of edge platform solutions. The key criteria report sets the decision-making framework for IT organizations and helps them identify the edge platform vendors that are advancing the state of the art. Grundemann says he came away surprised at the outset of the effort at how many content delivery networks (CDN) providers are now offering edge services. In fact, he says, the report began as an exploration of CDN, but soon grew beyond that.
“We knew there was growth and dynamism in that space, along with increasing demand from the enterprise,” says Grundemann. “The first surprise was how far so many of the CDN players, old and new alike, have embraced their position at the edge of the network to provide additional services. Of course, we knew that some folks were pushing the envelope, but it was surprising to see how broad that push to edge compute, edge storage, and secure access at the edge really was.”
Grundemann says his focus pivoted from CDN to edge platforms “right away,” because that reflects the character of vendor engagements. “It’s about so much more than content delivery, although that does remain a crucial edge service.”
The key criteria report helps IT decision-makers identify vendors whose capabilities match their requirements for edge platforms. However, no platform offers a silver bullet. Instead, the research finds that edge platforms are useful in niche applications, for which on-premises or cloud deployments fall short.
Grundemann says the biggest challenge with conducting the research is ensuring the playing field is defined correctly in such an evolving arena.
“There are a lot of companies clamoring after the edge these days,” he says. “And most of them are providing some value, but it’s hard to understand how it all fits together and who’s really doing what.”
With that in mind, Grundemann says his analysis started with the four-tier edge taxonomy that GigaOm Ned Bellavance developed for his report Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Infrastructure.
“The model has infrastructure at the bottom of the stack providing connectivity, space, cooling, and power. Above that rides the core systems like server hardware, hypervisor software, orchestration tools, data processors, etc. All the components you need to build a service,” Grundemann explains.
Figure 1. Taxonomy of the Edge
He goes on to describe the platform layer, which comprises “Edge-as-a-Service” offerings, and finally the top-most layer of edge applications. For Grundemann’s report, the focus was specifically on the Platform layer, albeit with a caveat.
“And additionally, to help provide clarity, we only focused on companies that own their own infrastructure, which allowed us to cut out some duplicate offerings that really just resell the services we did cover in the report,” Grundemann says.
As the space matures, the analysts predict key vendors in the area will expand their capabilities and develop airtight solutions.
“The focus will shift from whether something can be delivered to how well it is delivered,” Grundemann and Green write in the report. “The foundational challenge for edge platforms when dealing with distributed infrastructure is the ability to make sense of it all efficiently and without breaking the bank.“