To be effective, edge computing needs to be close to where the data stream originates and is applied. Often, that means edge facilities will be located in places that are inhospitable to IT equipment. Such locations may include rooftops, telephone poles, cell towers, unconditioned floors, or warehouses, says Todd Traver, vice president IT optimization and strategy for Uptime Institute.
“To keep compute located near the source of sensor generation and end user need, many will be installed in locations subject to natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, and extreme weather conditions,” Traver explains. “Because of these factors, edge computing installations need to be very robust, well designed, with integral power, cooling, fire, and security systems.”
Edge computing also requires its infrastructure to have built-in fault tolerance or failover capability. This asset allows edge computing to continue operating after a component fails and before a technician can get to the site to repair it. “These strategic results need to be provided at the pre-fabricated and modular level when the edge unit is being constructed,” Traver says.
Edge data center planning and operations are analogous to designing, deploying, and operating an orbiting satellite, according to Traver. “It better be self-sufficient and resilient, since timely manual service is just not possible.”
For larger applications, prefabricated and modular data centers already are growing in popularity as corporations bring their services closer to their customers. Because of their specialized high power density and resultant cooling requirements, as well as their small footprint, edge computing data centers have needs not met by many enterprise data centers. However, solutions already are in the marketplace.
For example, one company offers small edge racking and cooling solutions with an 81 square foot solution that can support 135 kilowatt power consumption of more than 1,000 watts per square foot.
“There are several companies that are building complete modular edge compute containers, which have complete standalone power systems, including uninterruptible power supplies, generator, physical and logical security,” Traver says.
Uptime Institute already has a “TIER-Ready” design review program to assist facility managers who are pushing computing to the edge with modular data centers. According to Uptime, modular data centers carrying the TIER-Ready designation “will demonstrate the same high level of performance once installed and certified at their intended deployment site,” Traver says.
Experts agree that Edge computing is well underway and should “have real legs within the next two years,” according to Kittila. In that timeframe, Kittila expects there will be more replicated edge data center availability, rather than the custom solutions being installed today.
Edge computing is moving fast. Kittila cited a conference he attended about a year ago. “At the conference’s beginning about 10 percent of us were seriously looking at edge compute,” he says. “By the time the conference ended, 75 percent of us were.”
For facility managers not ready to plunge corporate or operations data to the edge tomorrow, an interim evaluation may be in order. For example, shadow IT can be pulled off individual desktops, and replaced with fewer, more robust IT solutions used company-wide.
A detailed analysis of all corporate data functions, including building management systems currently running on the IT backbone that should be updated, replaced, and deleted also can result in significant bandwidth recovery.
Kittila recalls a company that had a data center on site as well as a colocation facility. Once apps were consolidated, the company found it no longer needed to send its AutoCAD operations to a colo site two hours from the plant. Now it operates onsite. Also, the company was able to shrink its data center footprint by using an edge compute solution.
“It’s a good success story,” says Kittila. “Their organization’s data is running better, more reliably, faster and cheaper.”
Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.
Email comments to email@example.com.
Edge Computing 101: What Facilities Managers Need To Know
Facility Infrastructure Implications for Edge Computing
Keys To Edge Computing Success