Agile Networks

Edge data centres gain traction

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.

Key characteristics

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.

Deployment scenario

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.

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