CenturyLink CTO Dugan: Three drivers for why enterprises need edge compute

CenturyLink has bold ambitions for its edge compute platform, but it's still in the early innings, according to CTO Andrew Dugan.

CenturyLink announced the blueprint for its edge compute strategy last year and it includes more than 100 active edge compute nodes across large metro markets in the U.S. Thanks to its large fiber network, both its backbone and on-net buildings in cities, CenturyLink has laid claim to reaching 98% of the enterprises in the U.S. with low latency of 5 milliseconds.

Speaking Tuesday at the Cowen 6th Annual Communications Infrastructure Summit, Dugan said CenturyLink has started to roll out services in some of those 100 edge nodes.

"We've started to deploy the shared compute infrastructure into those locations," Dugan said. "We're relatively early on, but that's progress. Those sites are available for our customers who want to do more professional managed services engagements today."

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Andrew Dugan

During CenturyLink's second quarter earnings call earlier this month, CenturyLink CEO Jeff Storey made mention of a large U.S. retailer using the company's edge platform to move extensive compute resources from each store to CenturyLink's secure edge compute facilities.

Storey said the retailer improved the performance of its data processing solutions, and that one customer has estimated 25% to 30% operational savings as a result of using the edge compute nodes.

While various edges are all the rage across service providers, cloud providers and enterprises, Dugan outlined three drivers for why enterprises need edge compute. The first is that cloud deployments have taught enterprise customers that somebody else can run their infrastructures for them.

"Several years ago, I think that was debatable, but today, I think it's a proven fact that enterprises trust others to run infrastructure," Dugan said. "So the willingness to let others run an edge environment is there.

"The second thing is that the CIOs of our customers, they don't want to worry about anything other than their applications. It's applications that drive their business, worrying about network and security is a distraction for them. So to the extent that we can integrate application management with network management and security, and make that seamless for them, I think there's an opportunity because it's the applications that really drive their business."

The third driver for why enterprises need edge compute is that they are becoming more performance sensitive. Dugan said enterprises are leveraging more robotics, data and analytics, augmented reality, virtual reality and sensors.

"Those applications require a certain amount of performance, both in terms of latency and bandwidth," Dugan said.  "The answer to all three of these drivers is edge compute with integrated network and security."

Dugan said there's still work to be done on edge business models, pricing and use cases with partners such as Amazon Web Services.

Dugan said CenturyLink has a number of factors working in its favor when it comes to edge compute. The first is CenturyLink can control the network. The network is one of the biggest contributors to latency, according to Dugan.

"This ecosystem is going to exist because performance is important," he said. "If we can control the underlying network, we can control latency. Those that can't control the network really don't have control (over latency.

:We're connected to the cloud. In fact, we're the underlying infrastructure provider for much of the cloud infrastructure. So again, for the most direct path to controlling latency, we have the enterprise connectivity."

Dugan said CenturyLink is willing to invest in bringing enterprises on net. He also cited the company's security products, real estate that's connected by fiber, cloud expertise and multi-cloud management as reasons for CenturyLink becoming a major player at the edge.

"We've got experience and expertise in IT managed services to bring all of this together for customers," Dugan said. "I do think that the edge need is real. We're seeing the demand from our customers.

"When you look at companies who have the ability to put that whole package together, including the network and including security, I think there's a small group of people who have the assets to do it, and I think we're one of them."

As for monetizing the edge, Dugan said CenturyLink has a full stack of services. It can sell space and power and IT managed services for private cloud, which includes custom implementations for customers.

"We can sell bare metal," Dugan said. "We can sell virtualized containers and virtualized machines. We can sell multi-cloud management. Where we are today from an edge perspective, I'd say is at that lower end services. It's more of the unique use cases. The ones that are coupled and integrated with IT managed services with custom implementations.

"But as we start to take our edge story out to customers we're seeing interest. We believe the demand is there. We see customers that want to engage with us, particularly when we can tell them the story about 'We're going to let you manage the applications,' and when you manage applications, the network is just there. It's integrated with what you're buying. It just turns up on demand. I think it's exciting for them and interesting for them."