With a total 190 million 5G subscriptions expected by the end of this year, consumer uptake of 5G is finally gaining real-world traction, and its benefits are becoming clearer. However, realizing 5G advantages to enterprise agendas will require more than simply serving faster video or richer gaming experiences. How will IT leaders will manage the transition to the high-powered network?
A network which promises additional revenue opportunities and increased efficiency to enterprises across the globe, 5G will unlock optimised operations and new opportunities for enterprises across many industries. However, with so much hyped promise, there’s understandably a bit of speculation. A key to unlocking 5G enterprise success? Edge computing.
5G-enabled devices—such as connected cars, 5G-enabled systems, smart building interfaces, and other low-latency applications—are chatty. They generate high transaction volumes and can produce a huge volume of data. Generally, this volume is too much to be processed at a traditional centralised data centre, which means the fate of these use cases, and our ability to deliver them, is linked to how successfully we adopt and implement edge computing.
Enter edge computing—infrastructure facilitating data collection and processing at the network edge. Bringing data to the edge means lower latency and improved user experience while reducing precious WAN bandwidth. It’s an attractive proposition for enterprises looking to deliver on 5G’s true potential.
Edge computing has been widely discussed for some time, but the “how” to deliver it in a business-consumable format has remained elusive. It might sound easy, but behind the scenes, it’s not. Serious considerations need to be considered. The progress of the telecom industry and ubiquity of cloud are major dependencies, and edge computing represents an unprecedented degree of network outsourcing to which most enterprises won’t be accustomed.
The drive towards edge computing usually boils down to a need for lower latency and/or bandwidth cost management. Some industries, such as financial trading environments, require the ability to rapidly store, access, and process data. Small e-commerce delays could trigger thousands of dollars in lost revenue and possibly billions for fintech traders. In other cases, specific applications require lower latency. Take medical wearables as an example—latency issues could affect performance and result in a serious emergency.
Enterprises looking to leverage 5G (and therefore transition to edge computing) must clearly define and understand the opportunities it could unlock. This will not only help IT pros make the case internally by educating stakeholders on the need to invest but also provide a useful milestone for determining all the factors they need to consider.
Like any major networking change, there are costs organisations must account for. Re-engineering applications to ensure they work at the network edge is expensive—as is training staff and making the necessary infrastructure upgrades. Enterprises serious about the edge should be prepared to set sufficient budget aside.
Actions Have Consequences
Once enterprises have defined how and why they want to shift applications to the edge, the next step is evaluating what this means for their IT pros’ ability to manage key facets of performance and security.
Historically, enterprises have been able to manage every user by monitoring a centralised or small number of data centres facilitating all connections. Running applications at the network edge removes this point of control. Users of your applications will be connected to systems directly rather than to your data centre firewall. Without location-based insight into the status of services and applications, understanding user experience at the network edge can be challenging.
Adopting network edge services means outsourcing control, which can lead to less visibility into application performance for IT professionals. This is significant, given users’ high expectations for performance and a potential skills gap with new technology. If an application or service isn’t performing well, users will quickly find an alternative, which presents a major problem for enterprises looking to secure the perimeter.
In It for the Long Run
To counter these performance issues, enterprises will need to expand their existing network monitoring practices or risk being in the dark to new opportunity. Edge computing is yet another drop in the bucket toward opaque networking infrastructure, but the right solutions can restore much-needed management and visibility.
Application performance management (APM) solutions have long been effective tools for making sense of decentralised networks and applications. APM can reveal performance information specific to users’ locations and grant visibility of the individual components applications or services depend on. If this seems familiar, it’s because it is. APM techniques are often applied cyclically to bridge year-long gaps between new—but unobservable—infrastructures and the eventually mature platforms’ robust management and monitoring interfaces. 5G + edge represents a typical use for APM and DevOps monitoring tools.
Technological advancements like edge computing require new considerations, but the need to effectively monitor networks remains as important as ever. APM is vital to extend understanding and delivering consistent user experiences taking place away outside the view of the network core. Any tier 1 application or service moved to the network edge should be accompanied by a mature and flexible APM solution.
The Last Word
You may have already realized edge computing as key to maximising 5G potential, and perhaps even be planning your first production deployment based on 5G. As an IT pro, ascertaining the most appropriate approaches and tools is already how you meet your business’s needs. The due diligence in understanding edge may seem a bit different, but modern edge deployment and operations options remove much of the infrastructure hassle. When considered as simply another application delivery platform, budget considerations and transformation capabilities will make 5G/edge an increasingly attractive enterprise option. After years of discussion and projects, edge may finally be a driving force for the Next Big (enterprise) Thing.