How much compute and storage will move to the edge?

During a recent FierceTelecom virtual event about artificial intelligence (AI), the panelists discussed the proliferation of edge computing. One point of discussion was: how much compute and storage will need to move to the edge and how much can remain in a centralized data center?

David Shacochis, VP for enterprise technology with CenturyLink, said when it comes to processing data for AI at the edge, “It’s really use-case dependent. We’re talking to customers about that all the time. It’s just a range of tradeoffs.”

Shacochis said it really depends on what the workload is and what you’re trying to achieve. “If it’s more of a computer-vision, high-bandwidth-type of application, you do tend to see organizations and architects steer toward localization of computing power and storage resources.”

Recently, the analyst firm AvidThink, in conjunction with Western Digital, penned a report about the future of storage. The report was based, in part, on interviews with more than 40 experts at network operators, independent software vendors, semiconductor companies, hyperscale cloud providers and enterprises.

The report noted that data can be stored and processed at a variety of edge locations. But it’s cheapest to process and store data in more centralized locations where capacity is maximized and you get the benefits of economies of scale. 

AvidThink chart

However, latency usually improves at more distributed locations.

There are numerous use cases where, despite the natural tendency of data to migrate upstream into the cloud, it will make more sense to process the data closer to end users because it won’t make sense to trombone the data back and forth. 

One use case would be cameras that capture 4K, and in the future, 8K video. Depending on the maturation of video transcoding capabilities, edge locations may turn into real-time transcoders of video streams. In addition, the storage requirements of video at the edge could also balloon.

But stakeholders are concerned about the security of their mini-data centers at the edge. They voiced concerns about vandalism and theft. “As a result, experts interviewed are citing encryption and security as even more critical in these locations when compared to central data centers,” writes AvidThink. “The consensus is that just as data-in-motion is encrypted today across the web to protect privacy, data-at-rest in edge locations will be encrypted in the event of location breach, loss, and theft.”

CenturyLink’s Shacochis said, “It is going to be one of the more vexing design challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution to figure out what is the right mix on a use-case basis and moving as much as you can out toward the edge but no more than you need to.”

Storage at the edge

“With the growth of data being upstreamed or processed at the edge, there will be a growth in demand for flash-based storage,” writes AvidThink. “For example, the edge is a harder place to perform a hardware refresh. As such, there’s a desire for higher reliability and smarter storage controllers that can increase the endurance or lifespan of flash.”

The key takeaway in regard to storage is that today’s HDDs, SSDs, NAND flash and embedded NAND flash hardware are ready to support the distributed edge. “Outside of cell-sites or street cabinets, most of the interviewees believe that hardware architectures at these telco edges will be similar to that of data centers,” writes AvidThink.