What is the Edge?
Where oh where to begin? "The Edge" excitement today is reminiscent of "The Cloud" of many moons ago. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE, had a "to the cloud" product to advertise. CS Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) wrote an essay titled "The Death of Words" where he bemoaned the decay of words that transitioned from precise meanings to something far more vague. One example he used was gentleman, which had a clear objective meaning (a male above the station of yeoman whose family possessed a coat of arms) but had decayed (and is to this day) to a subjective state of referring to someone well-mannered. This is the case with industry shifts like cloud and edge, and totally works to the advantage of marketing/advertising. The result, however, is usually confusion. In this article, I'll briefly break down the edge in layman's terms, then link out to the additional reading you should do to familiarize yourself with the edge, why it's hot, and how F5 can help with your plans.
What is edge computing?
The edge, plainly, is all about distribution, taking services once available only in private datacenters and public clouds and shifting them out closer to where the requests are, whether those requests are coming from humans or machines. This shift of services is comprehensive, so while technologies from the infancy of the edge like CDNs are still in play, the new frontier of compute, security, apps, storage, etc, enhances the user experience and broadens the scope of real-time possibilities. CDNs were all about distributing content. The modern edge is all about application and data distribution.
Where is the edge, though?
But, you say, how is that not the cloud? Good question. Edge computing builds on the technology developed in the cloud era, where de-centralized compute and storage architectures were honed. But the clouds are still regional datacenters. A good example to bring clarity might be an industrial farm. Historically, data from these locations would be sent to a centralized datacenter or cloud for processing, and depending on the workloads, tractors or combines might be idle (or worse: errant) while waiting for feedback. With edge computing, a local node (consider this an enterprise edge) would be gathering all that data, processing, analyzing, and responding in real-time to the equipment, and then sending up to the datacenter/cloud anything relevant for further processing or reporting. Another example would be self-driving car or gaming technology, where perhaps the heavy compute for these is at the telco edge instead of having to backhaul all of it to a centralized processing hub. Where is the edge? Here, there, and everywhere. The edge, conceptually, can be at any point in between the user (be it human, animal, or machine) and the datacenter/cloud. Physically, though, understand that just like "serverless" applications still have to run on an actual server somewhere, edge technology isn't magic, it has to be hosted somewhere as well. The point is that host knows no borders; it can be in a provider, a telco, an enterprise, or even in your own home (see Lori's "Find My Cat" use case).
The edge is coming for you
The stats I've seen from Gartner and others are pretty shocking. 76% already have plans to deploy at the edge, and 75% of data will be processed at the edge by 2025? I'm no math major, but that sounds like one plus two, carry the three, uh, tomorrow! Are you ready for this? The good news is we are here to help. The best leaps forward in anything in our industry have always come from efforts bringing simplicity to the complexities.
Abstraction is the key. Think of the progression of computer languages and how languages like C abstract the needs in Assembler, or how dynamically typed languages like python even abstract away the need for types. Or how hypervisors abstract lower level resources and allow you to carve out compute. Whether you're a netops persona thankful for tools that abstract BGP configurations from the differing syntax of various routers, or a developer thankful for libraries that abstract the nuances of different DNS providers so you can generate your SSL certificates with Let's Encrypt, all of that is abstraction.
I like to know what's been abstracted. That's practical at times, but not often. Maybe in academia. Frankly, the cost associated to knowing "all the things" ins't one for which most orgs will pay. Volterra delivers that abstraction, to the compute stack and the infrastructure connective tissue, in spades, thus removing the tenuous manual stitching required to connect and secure your edge services.
General Edge Resources
- Extending Adaptive Applications to the Edge
- Edge 2.0 Manifesto: Redefining Edge Computing
- Living on the Edge: How we got here
- Increasing Diversity of Location and Users is Driving Business to the Edge
- Application Edge Integration: A Study in Evolution
- The role of cloud in edge-native applications
- Edge Design & Data | The Edgevana Podcast (Youtube)