Edge infrastructure has little in common with traditional data center infrastructure. Whilst data centers have well-defined boundaries, edge has many more variables and challenges to take into account. Many edge deployments have revealed this in the worst possible way, by failing miserably in their first attempts.
Edge infrastructure adds several layers of complexity when compared to core infrastructure. As a rule of thumb, we can say that the farther from the core you are, the more variables you add. Some of these challenges are obvious, while others may be sneakier and difficult to properly identify. Here are a few examples from a long list:
- Security: traditional perimeter security does not apply. In some cases, devices and compute nodes are in public places and can be easily stolen or compromised.
- Safety: we are not talking about clean and tidy data centers here. Edge infrastructure elements can be deployed in manufacturing plants, offshore platforms, gas stations, and other high-risk environments. Physical intervention may be possible only by trained personnel, who are not always IT specialists.
- Rugged and specialized hardware: many edge environments can be harsh, so hardware is usually designed to sustain environmental and physical abuse.
- Hardware obsolescence: for the above reasons and others, compute devices installed at the far edge can require a 5 to 7 year lifecycle, which creates challenges if software is not properly designed and managed.
- Zero-touch deployment: in many cases, installing hardware and software in a remote location requires specialist expertise. Consider for example, the challenges of installing a server on top of a wind turbine, or on an offshore platform in the middle of the ocean.
It is unsurprising therefore, that longer-term edge infrastructure strategy needs specialized solutions, not least for:
Hardware management. Edge is critical for many use cases but the hardware (compute, networking and storage) is often minimal, both in physical size and resources, making it challenging to add software that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Optimization and integration. You need hardware, operating system and application software to be fully optimized and integrated with other layers of the stack, both as individual components and end-to-end.
What options exist?
Several options can enable you to achieve this goal. And I’d like to bring a couple of examples from the Edge Field Day 1 event I attended a few weeks ago: Zededa and Scale Computing. Two totally different approaches, with only partial overlap in terms of actual use cases.
The first, from Zededa, is particularly cool because you obtain the end-to-end integration I just described. Zededa’s operating system is open source, highly optimized and certified with hardware dedicated for edge deployments. The solution includes a management and orchestration platform aimed at monitoring the entire infrastructure, automate deployment and management operations, and keep software up to date.
Meanwhile, Scale Computing has a familiar hyperconverged approach, with additions that can be considered a natural extension of regular IT operations, but with the scale and requirements of edge computing. This approach provides simplicity and resiliency, while recent extensions such as fleet management, automation and zero-touch deployments dramatically increase the manageability of edge infrastructure.
Of these two examples, the first is edge-specific building out, and the second extends familiar approaches from the core.
Conclusion: Look before you leap
Multiple ways exist to deliver edge deployments. Improvising and failing before getting it right is obviously not the right approach, but it happens. Many enterprise IT teams think of edge as an extension of their traditional operations, and they want to apply the same processes and standards they use for data center and cloud. However, edge computing needs a totally different approach with solutions specifically designed for the specific requirements of your infrastructure.
With this in mind, the first question you should ask yourself is about what type of edge you are dealing with. Edge is tough business: user and customer service level expectations are the same as for cloud or data center services, but with devices distributed in the wild it is really challenging to provide a decent user experience or the stability required to run business critical applications. This is without taking into account security and many other critical factors.
So, remember the adage, “fail to plan and plan to fail” when it comes to Edge. A better approach—plan for what you need, and decide which option will work for you—is better than jumping in with both feet and finding out what you got wrong later, particularly in scenarios when failure was never an option.