While distributed computing has been a common practice for decades, the edge has emerged as a different way to deliver IT services nearer to the user, thanks to key enablers like highly distributed intelligent compute, the modularization of the computing environment, and smart IoT devices.

Conversations with IT leaders reveal that what the edge is and how it’s used in any particular company is influenced by the industry and heavily dependent on a company’s IT business services. To get an objective and accurate understanding of how large corporations manage their edge computing environments, RF Code commissioned GLG Reporting and Analytics to conduct a study of North American IT executives responsible for delivering business services via the edge. An overwhelming majority — 92% of respondents — defined edge computing as highly or somewhat important to their business. Their responses provided insight into how the pacesetters are using edge deployments and identified the unique challenges faced by those who are still figuring out how to best leverage edge technologies for their businesses.

Pioneers at the edge

While edge computing is important across several industries, the two that seem to be setting the pace for adoption are financial services (31%) and health care (25%). This is, in part, due to their size — larger corporations are often built through mergers and acquisitions, bringing along the edge as part of the complete IT package. But, no matter the industry, edge adoption is growing in importance to meet business needs despite the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or even a standard definition of edge computing yet.

In general, the edge is any location outside the core data center — half of those surveyed defined it as a mix of remote lights-out data centers and modular data centers. As analysts and vendors work to more formally define and position edge solutions, companies are making their own paths along the edge — to be innovative, deliver rich customer experiences, and save money while they’re doing it. Wherever companies are on the adoption curve, the edge is highly relevant. Almost a third (30%) of the companies surveyed have more than 250 edge locations to manage, and 41% of those surveyed plan to add between 11 and 50 edge locations in the next year.

IT infrastructure

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The next steps for companies that want to optimize their IT infrastructure is to direct their investments into monitoring their assets and building the operational resources to manage IT at the edge.

IT infrastructure

Managing the Edge

It’s no small feat for companies to manage their edge deployments. While 33% have only one to two racks at each of their many locations, 38% have more than five racks. At a scale like that, we were not surprised that the survey also revealed almost all the IT leaders, wherever their company falls in terms of how many edge locations they own, understand the importance of managing the edge remotely.

Companies managing and controlling increasing numbers of business-critical remote locations are faced with choosing how to invest their budgets to address the most important needs. All forms of monitoring (environment, assets, security, infrastructure) were rated at a high priority, with security (78%) and infrastructure (76%) at the top of the list. Even with this clear understanding and investment focus on monitoring the edge, very few companies felt they are on target with remote management.

Managing IT assets from afar is not as easy as dealing with equipment on-site in a staffed core data center, and companies are struggling to find the best way to manage their remote locations. Shutting down edge equipment, for example, and then waiting remotely for it to restart and reappear on the network isn’t going to work for any companies that view their edge services as mission critical. Upgrades, patch installation, and administration tasks can all require an equipment restart. While 71% see how critical it is to have remote control to accomplish these tasks for each edge location, only 6% described their current infrastructure hardware monitoring capabilities as excellent.

Environmental monitoring is critical for maintaining the well-being of edge assets, and it also presents management challenges for edge deployments, especially at scale. It’s true that power and cooling for a two-rack edge data closet does not require the same attention as an entire data center campus. Yet the need to gauge temperature, humidity, heating, and cooling remotely in each edge location (multiplied by more than 250 for 30% of the respondents) creates a significant management challenge, requiring a way to view all edge locations and their environmental systems in an integrated, consolidated system. Only 10% of those surveyed consider that their current environmental monitoring is excellent.

Combining those who feel their environmental monitoring is lacking with the number of companies that feel their infrastructure monitoring capabilities leave a lot of room for improvement, it’s clear to see that companies are leaving thousands of dollars’ worth of critical IT assets at risk. The lack of understanding in terms of how to monitor and manage edge deployments is especially troublesome at scale — for those with more racks per location (63% have an average of five) and more edge locations (30% with more than 250).

Edge Challenges

The edge is essentially a collection of data centers that contain less hardware than a core data center, but they require high degrees of sophistication and have an undeniable impact on the business. This creates significant organizational, roles, skills, and focus challenges. What companies found most difficult depends on how edge locations are currently being managed, their growth, and their importance to the business. The top challenges across all industries are the costs of both technology (61%) and people (57%), and the visibility of the edge (57%).

When looking at the teams responsible for the edge, most (62%) use a mix of local and remote personnel, 57% have dedicated teams, and a few (28%) use the lights-out approach to manage their edge locations totally remotely. Many considered their management good or adequate, with only a small percentage feeling they were doing an excellent job keeping track of what is happening in their edge environments.

The edge is an emerging space and, like the cloud that came before it, it is creating a new paradigm for IT and for business operations. As some companies adopt and adapt quickly, others flounder with how to deploy this infrastructure in service of their overall business and how to manage and protect the critical assets.

As the survey shows, IT leaders across industries do recognize the value of edge computing, and many are clear about their current limitations. The next steps for companies that want to optimize their IT infrastructure is to direct their investments into monitoring their assets and building the operational resources to manage IT at the edge.