In today’s 5G era, edge data centres have emerged as the next big thing to support a complete ecosystem of 5G networks. Edge data centres, which are small facilities located close to a public area, that is, close to the edge of the network, provide a better user experience and facilitate the adoption of digital services. Further, they assist in delivering cloud computing resources and cached content to end-users.
Edge data centres provide end-users a faster, more stable and more responsive network by eliminating the need to move data from distant data centres in order to process it, resulting in faster performance and lower latency. Owing to these advantages, these data centres are gaining traction across the globe.
A look at the rising demand for edge data centres, their key features and rising adoption in the Indian market…
Rising demand for edge data centres
Latency has always been a key issue for data centre managers. However, in recent years, it has become a more critical concern due to the rising adoption of new-age technologies such as big data, internet of things (IoT), cloud and streaming services, and other technology trends. End-users and devices demand constant and ubiquitous access to applications, services and data housed in data centres, and high latency is no longer tolerable. As a result, organisations across industries are setting up edge data centres as a high performance and cost-effective way to provide customers with content and functionality.
The pandemic push
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has propelled organisations to adopt a digital-first approach by setting up a flexible, efficient and scalable IT infrastructure. Further, as technologies such as AI, IoT, machine learning, big data and cloud computing are becoming more mainstream, developers are increasingly redesigning their offerings to incorporate edge computing to process data as close to their end-users as possible. While demand will continue to rise in cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi-NCR, other cities such as Kolkata, Pune, Kochi and Jaipur are also likely to witness the completion of edge data centres between 2021 and 2023 on the basis of their ability to service specific geographic zones. This is because edge data centres offer load distribution, enabling the supply of heavy traffic load from a large, geographically diverse user base, using multiple smaller edge data centres as part of a multi-data centre strategy.
Edge data centres are connected to multiple larger data centres. They are responsible for processing the data close to the origin. As processing takes place close to the end-users, network services are delivered faster and with minimal latency. In the 5G era, this allows telecom service providers to offer a better customer experience. Further, this enables edge computing, which involves processing data and services as close to the end-user as possible.
While edge data centres may be defined differently by different data centre professionals based on their roles, industries, or priorities, most definitions share the following key characteristics:
- Local: Edge data centres are placed near the areas they serve and are managed remotely.
- Small: Edge data centres have the same components as a traditional data centre, but they are packed into a much smaller footprint.
- Part of a larger deployment: An edge data centre is one of many in a complex network including a central enterprise data centre.
- Mission critical: Edge data centres house mission-critical data, applications and services for edge-based processing and storage.
Role in facilitating the 5G ecosystem
Edge computing is a distributed IT architecture wherein data is processed as close to the originating source as possible. Because the processing takes place close to the end-users, services are delivered faster and with minimal latency. When it comes to 5G, a decentralised cell network composed of edge data centres will provide low latency in use cases involving high device density. It is this low latency associated with edge data centres that will be a game changer in the 5G era. Further, edge computing will enable 5G to deliver on its latency and bandwidth promises.
Supporting new technology-based applications
A key feature of edge data centres is that data will not have to travel all the way to a centralised point. Owing to this feature, applications such as cloud gaming, IoT, augmented reality (AR) and AI, all of which have low latency and high bandwidth requirements, should be able to deliver an experience that satisfies the 5G customer.
The top use cases of computing through edge data centres are:
- Autonomous vehicles: These self-driving vehicles can collect, process and share data in real time using edge computing services, making transportation safer.
- Smart cities: Real-time gathering and analysis of data on traffic, utilities and infrastructure using edge computing allows city officials to immediately respond to problems.
- Manufacturing: Equipping industrial IoT devices with data storage and computing capabilities allows for better predictive maintenance and energy efficiency.
- Financial institutions: Edge computing allows reduced latency for high-volume banking firms. Trading algorithms are executed faster, potentially making more profit.
- Telemedicine: Healthcare providers can have immediate access to critical patient data collected from personal health monitoring devices and fitness bands that use edge computing.
- AR: AR technology, which requires real-time data processing, also uses edge computing and is being deployed by retail chains to create a more immersive in-store shopping experience.
- AI virtual assistants: The processing burden of household virtual assistants is distributed locally to utilise edge computing for improved performance and reduced latency.
- Video monitoring: Video cameras, especially those equipped with motion detection or facial tracking, record massive amounts of data that can be collected and processed locally.
- Gaming: Multiplayer gaming relies on high bandwidth, low latency and local matchmaking, leading to the emergence of cloud gaming.
- Content delivery: Content cached at the edge can be delivered to the end user in a matter of milliseconds.
Recognising that edge data centres are becoming the next big thing in the data centre domain, a number of companies have started eyeing opportunities in this domain. For instance, Bharti Airtel’s data centre subsidiary Nxtra currently has a footprint of over 120 edge data centre sites spread across around 65 cities. These data centres have 26,000 racks and 50 MW of power output. Going forward, Nxtra has announced an investment of Rs 50 billion to be undertaken by 2025 to further scale up its network of 11 large and 120 edge data centres, fully integrated with Airtel’s global submarine cable network and landing stations. The investment will include new data centre parks in key metro cities and will triple Nxtra’s installed capacity to over 400 MW.
Further, NxtGen Datacenter and Cloud Technologies has announced an investment of Rs 13 billion to set up 236 edge data centres in India by the first quarter of 2022-23. While the company has four edge data centres in Faridabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, it is looking forward to developing new facilities in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Chennai.
The latest entrant in the edge data centre space is the Indian government’s public sector undertaking RailTel, which has announced its plans of establishing 102 edge data centres on railway premises, especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns in the country. This will entail an investment opportunity of around Rs 5 billion. The edge data centres will be set up by RailTel jointly with partners. As per RailTel, the process of establishing edge data centres has been set in motion with the invitation of expressions of interest for partnering in this exercise.
The way forward
Net, net, the edge data centre ecosystem seems to be booming with opportunities. Significant industry-wide investment in edge computing will change the profile of the data centre ecosystem over the next five years, increasing the edge component of total compute by 29 per cent over that period.
As per a recent industry survey that captured insights from 156 industry professionals about their company’s edge computing plans, about a third (34 per cent) are either planning or are in the midst of significant edge deployments. A quarter have already deployed new, purpose-built edge sites, and 41 per cent are operating legacy edge sites. Therefore, the survey demonstrates that the future of computing will concern speed and latency, and the only way to meet the need is to build edge data centres.