2022 could be a turning point for pairing edge computing and 5G in the enterprise. Let’s examine trends to watch.
The distributed, granular nature of edge computing – where an “edge device” could mean anything from an iPhone to a hyper-specialized IoT sensor on an oil rig in the middle of an ocean – is reflected in the variety of its enterprise use cases.
There are some visible common denominators powering edge implementations: Containers and other cloud-native technologies come to mind, as does machine learning. But the specific applications of edge built on top of those foundations quickly diversify.
“Telco applications often have little in common with industrial IoT use cases, which in turn differ from those in the automotive industry,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist, Red Hat.
This reflects the diversity of broader edge computing trends he sees expanding in 2022.
When you pair maturing edge technologies and the expansion of 5G networks, the enterprise strategies and goals could become even more specific.
Simply put, “the 5G and edge combination varies by the type of enterprise business,” says Yugal Joshi, partner at Everest Group, where he leads the firm’s digital, cloud, and application services research practices.
Broadly speaking, the 5G-edge tandem is poised to drive the next phases of digital transformations already underway in many companies. As Joshi sees it, there will be a new wave of high-value production assets (including the copious amounts of data that edge devices and applications produce) becoming mainstream pieces of the IT portfolio – and subsequently creating business impact.
“Enterprises combine 5G to edge locations and create a chain of smart devices that can communicate with each other and back-end systems, unlike earlier times where network transformation didn’t touch the last-mile device,” Joshi says.
Edge computing’s turning-point year
The 5G-edge pairing is a long-tail event for enterprises. But there are plenty of reasons – including, of course, the expansion of telco-operated 5G networks – to think 2022 will be a turning-point year.
“We’ll see the transition from many smaller, early-stage deployments to wide-scale, global deployments of production 5G networks, following cloud-native design principles,” says Red Hat CTO Chris Wright. “As we provide a cloud-native platform for 5G, we have great visibility into this transition.”
“In 2022, 5G and edge will unify as a common platform to deliver ultra-reliable and low latency applications,” says Shamik Mishra, CTO for connectivity, Capgemini Engineering. A confluence of broader factors is feeding this type of belief including, of course, more widely available 5G networks.
“Edge use cases have a potential to go mainstream in 2022 with the development of edge-to-cloud architecture patterns and the rollout of 5G,” says Saurabh Mishra, senior manager of IoT at SAS.
The “last mile” concept is key. From a consumer standpoint, the only thing most people really care about when it comes to 5G is: “This makes my phone faster.”
The enterprise POV is more complex. At its core, though the 5G-edge relationship also boils down to speed, it’s usually expressed in two related terms more familiar to the world of IT: latency and performance. The relentless pursuit of low latency and high performance is embedded in the DNA of IT leaders and telco operators alike.
New horizons, familiar challenges
Consumer adoption of 5G and edge is enviably straightforward: Do I live in a coverage area, and do I need a new phone?
Obviously, there’s a little more to it from both the operator and broader enterprise perspective. While the potential of 5G-enabled edge architectures and applications is vast – and potentially lucrative – there will be some challenges for IT and business leaders along the way. Many of them may seem familiar.
For one, the 5G-edge combo in an enterprise context invariably means deploying and managing not just IT but OT (operational technology), and lots of it. As with other major initiatives, there will be a lot of moving parts and pieces to manage.
“Governance and scale will continue to be a challenge given the disparate people and systems involved – OT versus IT,” says Mishra from SAS. “Decision-making around what workloads live in the cloud versus the edge and a lack of understanding about the security profile for an edge-focused application will also be a challenge.”
Scale may be the biggest mountain to climb. It will require pinpoint planning, according to Kris Murphy, senior principal software engineer at Red Hat.
“Standardize ruthlessly, minimize operational ‘surface area,’ pull whenever possible over push, and automate the small things,” Murphy says.
5G and edge will also breed another familiar issue for CIOs – the occasional gap between what a vendor or provider says it can do and what it can actually do in your organization. Joshi says this is one important area that enterprise leaders can prepare for now, while the underlying technologies advance and mature.
“What will be more important for enterprise IT is to enhance its business understanding of operational technology, as well as be comfortable working with a variety of network equipment providers, cloud vendors, and IT service providers,” Joshi says.
Lock-in could be another familiar challenge for enterprise IT, Joshi says, underlining the need for rigorous evaluation of potential platforms and providers.
“Open source adoption and openness of the value chain, [including] RAN software, towers, base stations, cloud compute, and storage” will be an important consideration, Joshi says, as well a nose for finding substance amidst hype.
That brings us back to use cases. If you’re unsure about what’s next for 5G and edge in your organization, then start with the potential business applications. That should ultimately guide any further strategic development. Joshi sees growing adoption of remote training using digital twins, remote health consultations, media streaming, and real-time asset monitoring, among other uses.
“Any enabling factors in 5G such as small cells and low latency, strongly align to an edge architecture,” Joshi says. “However, the intention should not be to enable 5G, but to have a suitable business scenario where 5G adoption can enhance impact.”
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