Grabbing the Edge Computing Brass Ring - Guidance for Service Providers

Missed the cloud? Don't miss the edge.

Over the last few years, communication service providers (CSPs) watched enterprises embrace cloud migration. Several CSPs added value by providing consulting services for cloud transition while others offered fast and reliable connectivity to public clouds. However, many CSPs felt relegated to the sidelines as enterprise data and applications went over the top (OTT).

With availability of increasingly sophisticated distributed cloud platforms, heightened concerns about data sovereignty, and enterprise applications that rapidly process data (e.g., AI/Machine Learning, real-time Industrial IoT control systems), enterprises are realizing that Edge Computing offers a new value proposition to augment centralized cloud computing. This is a positive for CSPs who can help bring the edge to an existing, installed base of enterprise customers.

Early CSP learnings to improve edge computing success

For CSPs to position themselves for edge computing success, we share the following observations from AvidThink’s recent engagements with tier-1 CSPs, hyperscalers and distributed cloud solution providers:

  • Connectivity is the lever — CSPs need to understand the fundamental value they bring to the table: reliable connectivity — WAN primarily, but private enterprise cellular networks as a possible extension. The local footprint for this connectivity is a unique and credible landing point for CSPs.
  • Connectivity needs modernization — Even though basic WAN connectivity is table stakes, CSPs can add value by (1) reducing costs for core functionality, like routing, multilink handling, and network security, (2) simplifying configuration for common use cases, like automatically prioritizing unified communications and real-time traffic, lowering bulk traffic QoS, and (3) offering strong security against malware, ransomware, and DDoS without requiring enterprise security experts on-staff. In this vein, enterprises will demand SD-WAN and SASE features. So, CSPs should invest in visibility and telemetry to provide proactive assurance for enterprise connectivity, given the critical nature of WAN connectivity for business continuity.
  • CSPs need distributed cloud expertise — For CSPs to be involved in and support enterprise edge efforts, they will need to grow internal cloud expertise or bring trusted partners to the conversation. CSPs must first recognize what centralized clouds are good for, and where the edge provides opportunities to augment and enhance a distributed cloud strategy. They will need to understand fully burdened costs for computing, storage, and data transfer in centralized clouds and at the edge. Likewise, to have meaningful conversations around the carbon impact of edge and cloud, CSPs must be savvy about sustainability initiatives. The CSP toolkit will need to include a deep understanding of data sovereignty and privacy rules in the regions served. In the same way, container and virtualization platforms, distributed workload management, and edge orchestration need to be part of the CSP vocabulary and their solution portfolio. Only educated and prepared CSPs can add value to enterprise customers’ edge strategies.
  • Enterprise vertical applications are key to the edge — Beyond discussing the underlying edge and distributed cloud platforms, CSPs will want to engage in conversations around vertical workloads. As we ease into edge computing, a handful of common use cases span the verticals — for example, processing of 4K video streams for surveillance, safety, or personalization. These video use cases leverage computer vision technology utilizing AI/ML inference engines. Likewise, IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT) processing are common edge use cases, especially IoT workloads that involve large data sets or that require near real-time decision making. Beyond these common use cases, most in-depth edge conversations will require deeper understanding of vertical applications. For example, retail shrinkage management, contactless checkout, baggage handling systems, shipping container management systems, and soil management applications are just a few we've run across. To have effective conversations with enterprise end users, CSPs will need to either have vertical application subject matter experts (SMEs) on staff or develop close partnerships with solution providers and system integrators with the required expertise.

Establishing a strong edge beachhead

Even as CSPs contemplate developing further cloud and edge computing expertise or forging tighter partnerships with cloud and distributed computing experts, they will want to invest further in expanding the enterprise beachhead they have today — the customer premises equipment (CPE) sitting as the on-premises termination point.

The CPE or, more appropriately, the universal CPE (uCPE) can host multiple networking and application workloads and represents a viable CSP landing point in edge computing. Understanding the role this entry point plays in the CSP edge computing strategy will be critical to success.

Today, vendors provide solutions that offer both connectivity and distributed cloud computing. These solutions build on edge routing, SD-WAN, and SASE platforms by adding virtualization and container workload management. Key to success will be finding scale economies while embracing and accommodating the differences between distributed, remote, heterogeneous sites versus centralized, more homogeneous data centers. As CSPs look at edge platforms and edge orchestration options, they will want to focus on solutions with low operating expense that accommodate enterprise application deployment workflows.

With-the-top, not against-the-top

CSPs that adopt a collaborative with-the-top (WTT) approach will find greater success. These enlightened CSPs recognize that enterprise applications will live in public, private, and edge cloud platforms, so folding into an IT strategy that unifies the deployment and monitors pipelines across all clouds will be appreciated by enterprise customers.
In this era of OTT, the edge brings new opportunities for the CSPs to offer value to enterprise customers beyond connectivity, and in turn, charge for that value creation. To succeed, CSPs will want to:

  • Build internal cloud and edge competencies or form partnerships with those that have these competencies.
  • Develop an understanding of key enterprise vertical applications, either in-house or with appropriate partners.
  • Seek a new generation of solution platforms that can combine both connectivity and WAN edge features, with a solid foundation to host, manage, and orchestrate enterprise edge applications.

As the technology carousel swings round again, CSPs get another chance to jump on as cloud computing evolves into a distributed cloud where edge plays a starring role — get ready to reach out and grab that brass ring!