The term edge computing has emerged at a time when the IT industry is awash with new technology buzzwords related to so-called digital transformation.
A complex set of technologies requiring both considerable investment and a complete rethink of the reseller model, edge computing is by no means an easy path for partners. But, as discussed during recent ARN Exchange events in Brisbane and Sydney, held in association with APC by Schneider, overcoming the challenges can unlock a goldmine for partners who are ready to go on the journey.
At the core of edge computing is data explosion that mass migration by Australian companies to the cloud and the internet-of-things (IoT) has generated. But given the fragmentation of this data across on-premises, public cloud data centres and private clouds, enterprise customers are increasingly struggling to harness the customer experience benefits of this data.
“Five years ago, everyone wanted to be in the cloud, but now few customers anymore are saying they are cloud-first,” Mark Iles, executive analyst at Tech Research Asia (TRA) said. “Everyone else is saying they want to be able to utilise different environments depending on the specific solution requirements, which of course means the solution is hybrid cloud.”
Citing TRA findings, Iles revealed that around 90 per cent of 250 chief information officers surveyed revealed they “will now put the workload where the workload belongs”.
“Australia has a massive geography,” he said. “We have some NBN, some fibre links but the problem is we are quite unusual in terms of population density and density of metro living. As you expand you start to need more regional data centres, it becomes quite important where you put things.”
Edge computing, essentially a distributed computing paradigm which brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed, has emerged as the solution. And that often means moving IT infrastructure into specialised data centres designed to complement existing cloud.
As Iles observed, while 10 per cent of data today is processed outside of a traditional data centre, in future 75 per cent of that will need to be processed nearer the environment where it is created, which will increasingly be at the edge of the network. For customers who still have their old on-premise space and facilities, these can be recommissioned with better solutions and power to capitalise on the opportunities -- of which there are an abundance.
As such, in the words of Joseph Vijay, general manager of channels, alliances and operations at APC by Schneider, edge presents an “additional leaver” that the channel can draw on to expand their service relationship.
In particular, industries using a large volume of real-time data, such as manufacturing and smart agriculture, will have the most to gain, but according to Vijay all companies should be able to capitalise.
“Edge should drive discussion and a workshop style engagement as it requires a new way of thinking to build new platforms outside of traditional data centres to drive customer experience,” he said. “This approach will help build authentic solutions and drive differentiation and as such create more intimacy.”
The dawn of 5G will also unleash a whole wave of new potential across IoT, including connected vehicles, surveillance and even unmanned stores, such as Amazon Go in Seattle. However, separating the good data from the “noise” within these devices is where edge computing will be essential.
“Around 80-to-90 per cent of data generated by sensors is noise,” explained Iles. “You need the processing to get to the gems of it and then take that, and then leverage cloud to run analytics. But we have to find a way to deal with that noise at the edge.”
Although partners may feel as though they are performing a full circle going from on-premise, into the cloud and back into hardware, Iles also pointed out that cloud and edge now go hand-in-hand.
“The public cloud providers are starting to realise the cloud is not necessarily the solution to all of IT’s ills,” he said. “It’s why they’re building quite advanced IoT solutions and well-integrated edge facilities. Cloud and edge are friends not foes and need to sit together.”
Vijay also concurs that edge should be considered as part of a hybrid IT strategy and not “as a competitor to cloud”.
However, transitioning all the pillars of IT -- storage, security, processing and networking -- to the edge remains a mammoth task and an entirely new approach to selling. “The need to create a new sales skill set, one that is more consultative and proactive versus. reactive which will require urgent investment decisions which can be supported by vendors with complementary priorities,” explained Vivay.
Much of this involves building purpose-built solutions for the customer and even coming from an entirely different mindset -- Iles even recommended hiring sales talent from customers in target industries themselves as opposed to just the usual channel poaching.
More importantly, both Vijay and Iles stressed that it will require a much more collaborative approach by the channel to work with each other. Partners lacking in the right skills and capabilities should be able to “leverage” their vendor partners to have introductions made to their channel and alliances ecosystem, argues Vijay.
“Edge solutions which are engineered to capture sensitive data while protecting the privacy and then leveraging powerful correlation engines to create meaningful insights is a complex undertaking which can be de-risked through collaboration with vendors and the channel alike,” he said.
“Solutions specialisation and end-user focus are key to creating strong partnerships and a clear engagement strategy.”
Meanwhile, for Iles, partners need to leave the mindset of just providing “packaged solutions” or face an overwhelming task ahead.
“Where you play in edge -- and yes you will need to play – it’s going to be important to figure out the partnerships you need,” he said. “Edge use cases can be quite complicated; it’s not always going to be a packaged solution.
“So a co-creation style mindset is where this business is going to be at. It’s not about being all things to all people. You need to be a consortium of two or three partners together, each with your specific expertise you can bring to the overall solution.”