Sharpening the Edge: The edge is about “when” not “where.”
Edge is the new black. Everywhere you turn, the clouderati—from providers to users, journalists, analysts, and beyond—are buzzing about “edge computing” and the changes it brings for all kinds of businesses.
Unfortunately, the buzz is more noise than signal right now. One article talks about edge computing as though it is just another term for locally-processed workloads. Another article says edge computing is any processing, storage, and networking that happens at the telco. One company’s self-described edge “platform” is a SaaS product deployed in a handful of hyper-scale public cloud data centers. Another’s is actually a colocation solution providing ping, power, and pipe as always, just in micro-sized footprints.
All of that inconsistency springs from a fundamental misconception: that the edge is a “where,” and you can draw a line on a diagram of the Internet—maybe between public cloud providers and Internet Exchanges, or around the base of a cell tower—and say that line is “where” the edge is. That misconception leads to yet another: that the edge is owned by the “whos” that own those “wheres.”
“The edge is the first or last step data takes when traveling.”
But the edge is not defined by “where” or “who.” The edge is defined by “when.” The edge is the first or last step that data takes when traveling between an end device and an Internet-connected workload.
That means the “where” and “who” of the edge is relative: the physical location of data’s first/last step will vary from user to user, device to device, and even moment to moment. When I’m using my smartphone at the office, a WAP is the edge. And when I’m using that same smartphone in the car, a cell tower is the edge.
All of this might seem like a distinction more than a difference, but it has enormous implications for how edge computing can (and should) reshape the Internet and cloud. Thinking of the edge as a fixed “where” or “who” leads the industry to innovate ways to segment and shift workloads from one point on a map to another. But understanding that the edge is relative should inspire far greater innovation, to enable workloads to optimize across all points on a map, from each moment to moment, and each user to user.
“Understanding that the edge is relative should inspire far greater innovation.”
At StackPath, we’ve entered the next phase of executing our vision to become the leading edge computing platform. With the low signal-to-noise ratio in the industry about edge, it’s almost as hard (maybe even harder) to just talk with people about what we’re doing as it is to deliver on the tech.
So this is the first in a series of posts where we will share some ideas (and opinions) about what edge means to us and how we’re getting there. We hope these ideas resonate or maybe even provoke discussion. It wouldn’t be edge without a little, well, edge.