Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Susan James, senior director of Telecommunications Strategy at Red Hat, explains why she things edge computing will enable CSPs to maximise their 5G capabilities, strike up partnerships with hyperscalers and flourish as cloud-native players.
The edge conversation has moved on from why and how, to when and where? Digital Service Providers are involved in those conversations as businesses formulate new strategies; and so are the public cloud players. Enterprises recognise that no single vendor can provide a complete cloud edge solution. They need a fully integrated solution that provides them with reach and scale, something service providers have in abundance, with new network architectures in place, they can contribute much more.
Historically networks were closed environments, but with the onset of virtualisation, 5G and now edge computing, they are opening up to take advantage of a more diverse ecosystem including new VRAN players, ISVs and systems integrators. This paradigm allows service providers to serve a variety of different industries and use cases. This is crucial, because going forward edge deployments will be supported by multiple providers, bringing some of the biggest names in cloud and telecoms together to create a federated edge. Rather than competing they will need to collaborate, with each bringing something unique to the party.
In collaboration with the hyperscalers, service providers will deliver edge capabilities, 5G connectivity, footprint and scale. Their networks will amass huge volumes of data that will need to be processed, shared and acted upon by other constituents in the value chain. Handoffs between other cloud and edge properties will need to be seamless and applications will need to be able to run anywhere across a vast distributed cloud ecosystem. Ultimately, this requires a common framework to deploy new applications and workloads in the cloud both centrally and at the edge. This will be enabled through greater openness, not just open source but also open interfaces. Using a unified platform to organise their cloud assets, service providers will be able to innovate faster, develop new applications that run at the edge, and deploy them quickly and securely. They will be able to play a key role in the multiple vendor partnerships that will underpin edge deployments.
The Distributed Edge
It’s important to realise that ‘the edge’ isn’t a single entity that can be found in a specific location. The location of the edge varies by use case, but essentially edge computing is distributed across different tiers. These tiers extend out from the central core like a series of concentric circles.
The first tier is the service provider edge, in this case a telco. The second tier is the end-user premises edge, which covers the last mile access. This includes the enterprise edge, which can apply to anything from an automotive plant to a shopping mall or an office complex. It also includes the consumer edge, which could apply to residential households or connected cars. Finally, the last tier is the device edge.
Service providers are primed to leverage each of these tiers. The edge model removes many of the limitations that held service providers back in the past. It allows them to behave with the same freedom and agility associated with the cloud computing and hyperscale brands. While they can use it to serve new vertical markets, they can also use it to scale their own resources and roaming capabilities and develop a new breed of edge services that operate across multiple network environments. A universal open hybrid framework can drive 5G and edge innovation to deliver services that go beyond a single provider.
Containers at The Edge
The edge presents service providers with a range of new business opportunities. However, to take full advantage of this new dynamic their edge infrastructure must be able to adapt to support different deployment models. That could include anything from supporting IoT or edge applications for a manufacturer or delivering their own services across multiple provider networks. Each use case will be different and the service providers will need an infrastructure that suits their own needs as well as those of customers and other service providers, telco or otherwise. They need a framework that facilitates a multi-vendor, or federated edge ecosystem, regardless of the underlying technology.
Containers provide this flexibility. A service provider can use a supported container management platform to run applications in containers anywhere across its distributed cloud infrastructure, from core to edge. A flexible and open architecture allows them to interact, connect and collaborate with partners and customers to develop new and innovative digital use cases delivered at the edge. This gives the business scalability to deploy new services, test and run applications in edge locations with very small footprints.
Automation is a critical piece in orchestrating this operation. Automation should be built into processes to monitor and control the clusters of devices, applications and equipment that make up endpoints across an infrastructure so service providers can collect and analyse the data being processed by end users. Armed with this information, they can correct any errors or neutralise problems before they escalate. They can also be proactive, able to refine service offerings and respond to customer needs in real-time.
Cloud Native Service Providers
Service providers are well placed to take a leading role in the rapidly developing edge computing space. They have always been adept at delivering services on a national and international scale, extending network capability to meet demand. Using the same mindset, they have built new virtual and hybrid cloud infrastructures that have enabled them to transition to the edge. They are also able to run and deploy applications anywhere across their hybrid cloud and edge infrastructure. They can collaborate with other service providers, customers and partners to deliver a federated cloud edge ecosystem. They can leverage data produced at the cloud edge to develop a new range of services that will open up markets and revenues. All of this combined with the reach and 5G connectivity that service providers already offer provides a compelling case for businesses looking for partners that will help them innovate at the edge.
In Susan’s current role as senior director of Telecommunications Strategy at Red Hat, she is actively working on NFV, 5G and edge computing projects. Susan leads discussions with customers and ecosystem partners about infrastructure investments, hybrid cloud implementation and service orchestration. Susan joined Red Hat in 2018, after 27 years at Ericsson, where she was head of Product Line NFV infrastructure. While at Ericsson, she worked in Enterprise, Wireline, Network and Cloud organizations. She worked extensively with the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), and was responsible for a number of the network functions in the Ericsson portfolio. A product management veteran, her career has focused on developing products to address technology transitions, and the establishment of new business areas.