Has Edge Computing Lived Up to Its Potential? Barriers to Deployment

Despite years of touting and hype, edge computing (aka Multi-access Edge Computing or MEC) has not yet provided the payoff promised by its many cheerleaders.  Here are a few rosy forecasts and company endorsements:

In an October 27th report, Markets and Markets forecast the Edge Computing Market size is to grow from $44.7 billion in 2022 to $101.3 billion by 2027, which is a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 17.8% over those five years.

IDC defines edge computing as the technology-related actions that are performed outside of the centralized datacenter, where edge is the intermediary between the connected endpoints and the core IT environment.

“Edge computing continues to gain momentum as digital-first organizations seek to innovate outside of the datacenter,” said Dave McCarthy, research vice president, Cloud and Edge Infrastructure Services at IDC. “The diverse needs of edge deployments have created a tremendous market opportunity for technology suppliers as they bring new solutions to market, increasingly through partnerships and alliances.”

IDC has identified more than 150 use cases for edge computing across various industries and domains. The two edge use cases that will see the largest investments in 2022 – content delivery networks and virtual network functions – are both foundational to service providers’ edge services offerings. Combined, these two use cases will generate nearly $26 billion in spending this year (2022). In total, service providers will invest more than $38 billion in enabling edge offerings this year.  The market research firm believes spending on edge compute could reach $274 billion globally by 2025 – though that figure would be inclusive of a wide range of products and services.

HPE CEO Antonio Neri recently told Yahoo Finance that edge computing is “the next big opportunity for us because we live in a much more distributed enterprise than ever before.”

DigitalBridge CEO Marc Ganzi said his company continues to see growth in demand for edge computing capabilities, with site leasing rates up 10% to 12% in the company’s most recent quarter. “So this notion of having highly interconnected data centers on the edge is where you want to be,” he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

Equinix CEO Charles Meyers said his company recently signed a “major design win” to provide edge computing services to an unnamed pediatric treatment and research operation across a number of major US cities. Equinix is one of the world’s largest data center operators, and has recently begun touting its edge computing operations.

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In 2019, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said his company would generate “meaningful” revenues from edge computing within a year.  But it still hasn’t happened yet!

BofA Global Research wrote in an October 25th report to clients, “Verizon, the largest US wireless provider and the second largest wireline provider, has invested more resources in this [edge computing] topic than any other carrier over the last seven years, yet still cannot articulate how it can make material money in this space over an investable timeframe.  Verizon is in year 2 of its beta test of ‘edge compute’ applications and has no material revenue to point to nor any conviction in where real demand may emerge.

Gartner believes that communications and manufacturing will be the main drivers of the edge market, given they are infrastructure-intensive segments. We highlight existing use cases, like content delivery in communications, or
‘device control’ in manufacturing, as driving edge compute proliferation. However, as noted above, the market is still undefined and these are only two possible outcomes of many.”

Raymond James wrote in an August research note, “Regarding the edge, carriers and infrastructure companies are still trying to define, size and time the opportunity. But as data demand (and specifically demand for low-latency applications) grows, it seems inevitable that compute power will continue to move toward the customer.”

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BofA Global Research – Challenges with Edge Compute:

The distributed nature of edge compute can pose several risks to enterprises. The number of nodes needed between stores, factories, automobiles, homes, etc. can vary wildly. Different geographies may have different environmental issues, regulatory requirements, and network access. Furthermore, the distributed scale in edge compute puts a greater burden on ensuring that edge compute nodes are secured and that the enterprise is protected. Real-time decision making on the edge device requires a platform to be able to anonymize data used in analytics, and secure data in transit and information stored on the edge device. As more devices are added to the network, each one becomes a potential vulnerability target and as data entry points expand across a corporate network, so do opportunities for intrusion.

On the other hand, the risk is somewhat double-sided as some security risk is mitigated by keeping the data distributed so that a data breach only impacts a fraction of the data or applications. Other barriers to deploying edge applications include high costs as a result of its distributed nature, as well as a lack of a standard edge compute stack and APIs.

Another challenge to edge compute is the issue of extensibility. Edge computing nodes have historically been very purpose-specific and use-case dependent to environments and workloads in order to meet specific requirements and keep costs down. However, workloads will continuously change and new ones will emerge, and existing edge compute nodes may not adequately cover additional use cases. Edge computing platforms need to be both special-purpose and extensible. While enterprises typically start their edge compute journey on a use-case basis, we expect that as the market matures, edge compute will increasingly be purchased on a vertical and horizontal basis to keep up with expanding use cases.

References:

The Amorphous “Edge” as in Edge Computing or Edge Networking?

Edge computing refuses to mature | Light Reading

Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) Market, Applications and ETSI MEC Standard-Part I

ETSI MEC Standard Explained – Part II

Lumen Technologies expands Edge Computing Solutions into Europe