I used to work for a guy who, during business imbroglios, often said, “It’s not the direction, it’s the velocity.” Roughly translated: Sometimes a flurry of activity obfuscates the fact that no one knows what’s going on.
I think he would feel right at home in assessing the current state of the edge market. Everyone is as excited as can be, but it’s safe to say that no one has cracked the edge code yet. There are plenty of theories about what it would take to vault the state of the edge business from exciting to, well, really exciting.
Industry standards are one of the points that often get cited in discussions about what will take edge computing to the next level. After all, without a penumbra of acronym-authored requirements for things like connectivity, air quality, and doorframe sizes, are you really in the data center business? Putting aside the existential nature of the question, it is unarguable that someone writing down a few points of reference would help make things like comparing facility A to facility B a tad easier on the folks thinking about edge. Fortunately, help appears to be on the way in this area with the release of the ASHRAE TC 9.9 bulletin that begins to define requirements for facilities where the maintenance term “truck roll” is as desirable as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. We all know with standards, once the first domino falls …
Another point that is often raised is resolving questions about geography — no one agrees on where to put these things. Many believe cell towers are the logical home for edge sites. However, a growing faction believes being close to towers is enough, subscribing to the old adage about horseshoes and hand grenades. Some of you may be asking yourselves questions like, “Don’t cities like Dallas and Chicago already have a bunch of data centers?” Well, you’ve got to start someplace, right? In a similar vein, others make the case that the edge is anywhere they already built a facility. Makes sense, after you’ve sunk a bunch of capital into a 50-MW facility, you’ve got to market it somehow, I suppose.
Another topic that remains foggy focuses on edge partnerships. “Do I hitch my wagon to an existing wireless provider?” “Do I buddy up with a significant internet exchange provider?” These questions remain unsolved.
I should note that these areas of confusion quickly become moot with the advent of a profitable business model. Right now, opinion seems to vary on the subject. Do I sell the boxes and let the end user decide what he wants to put in there? Or do I deploy a bunch of these puppies and lease out the rack space? These are just a couple of propositions on the table. One thing is certain — once a clear winning business model emerges, there will quickly be multiple imitators and ancillary businesses proliferating like rabbits on fertility drugs.
When it comes to the edge, I think we all tacitly believe the answer to the business model issue is a question composed of equal parts of how and when.
Undoubtedly, separating the hype from reality when it comes to the edge is a gradual process, giving us time to work on the challenges above. If history is any indication, we can feel confident that these issues will all ultimately work themselves out. Until then ... (insert your pithy phrase here).