At the risk of giving away the conclusion too early, there’s a clear place — not to mention, a need — for both application and infrastructure deployments in the cloud and on the edge.  Centralizing data and the processing it in the cloud can be efficient and effective, but where latency can’t be tolerated, some amount of processing needs to be carried out at the edge. In fact, it’s often easier and more efficient to bring the processing to the data than it is to bring the data to the processing engine.

While some edge data sources are fairly mundane — remote and branch offices, highly automated worksites like oil rigs, and even simple power meters — the collection options have grown immensely and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. The IoT enables all kinds of devices to constantly record data — from refrigerators to TVs to speakers to cars, it seems that everything is collecting information. Some of it is used right away, but most of it is simply be stored for a future, possible use.

Balance is key in most things, and that holds true in the cloud versus edge debate. The two are much more complementary than competitive, and, in many cases, they’re one in the same. The edge itself consists of the emerging explosion of IoT-enabled devices, but the service edge is essentially made up of mini-clouds — small data centers located in close proximity to the actual community of devices. Service edges are emerging where concentrations of edge devices collect and access data. Think hospitals, sports stadiums, exploration platforms, airports, ships, and more. While these edge locations are physically separated from traditional core or traditional cloud data centers, the ubiquity of network connectivity, and the pending increase in that connectivity powered by 5G and other future technologies, push the edge and core locations to form logical architectures that share services and enable the movement and processing of data freely between the edge and cloud. The terms “compute edge” and “service edge” both imply that data processing or some other manipulation of data is occurring at an edge location rather than at a central data center. For many use-cases in those environments, such as local data capture or content delivery, there are clear performance, control, and quality-of-service benefits to accessing local infrastructure resources.

Why Will Edge Computing Be Disruptive for Cloud Providers?

We need to remove the “why” and simply ask: “Will edge computing be disruptive for cloud providers?” And the answer really seems to be “no.”  Edge computing will be more of an opportunity than a disruption for cloud companies, as it creates new requirements for lightweight (small footprint) compute and data management solutions deployed in edge locations. In fact, the large cloud providers, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform are all investing heavily in solutions specific to edge use cases in addition to solutions that span edge-to-core.

Edge computing is most definitely altering how cloud providers look at the market. In fact, there seems to be clear evidence that edge computing may be a natural extension of many of the services offered in these core public cloud data centers. The big clouds that saw edge deployments as threats to their dominance at first are recognizing and adapting to the trend. Today, many of the technologies that these mega-clouds use in their own data centers include containerized architectures deployed on Kubernetes, automated provisioning and management of resources, and workload and data portability tools that apply equally to edge use cases as they do to classic cloud use cases. They’re even offering edge solutions in order to maximize their value to customers. For example, Amazon introduced AWS IoT Greengrass and Microsoft came out with Azure Stack Edge. This enables them to act locally on the data generated at the edge, while offering the option to push to the cloud for management, analytics, and storage. We also hear about promising visions of edge delivery services from companies like Verizon and Vodafone, who can colocate edge cloud deployments with newly emerging 5G network services.

Close examination shows that cloud and edge technologies are more complementary to each other than they are competitive. So the question isn’t which one is better. The question is: How can we merge these technologies together to create an optimal solution.