Edge computing and the future of the data center

In almost every respect, the world is getting faster. We expect customer service problems to be resolved right away, we want our goods to arrive the day after we order them and have become used to communicating with anyone, anywhere, at any time.

For enterprises, this trend is reflected in the increased demand for real-time data processing. Look at the trends that will power the next generation of business innovation: AI, the Internet of Things and 5G are driving a surge in data production that, according to a Gartner study, could see more than 7.5 billion connected devices in use in enterprises by 2020.

According to Seagate Technology’s latest study, Data Pulse: Maximising the Potential of AI, at least six in ten organisations in Singapore have already implemented AI in one form or another, with 91% indicating that they are planning to implement more in the next 12 months.

Earlier this year, Asia showed it is the forerunner in 5G adoption on the global stage, with the technology’s global debut at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Countries like China and Japan are in the process of deploying 5G infrastructure across their cities. Singapore will also launch its first 5G pilot network by the fourth quarter of this year. Frost & Sullivan estimates there will be 280 million 5G subscriptions in Asia Pacific by 2022, with 5G service revenue reaching US$4.5 billion.

This shift may power next-generation technologies from connected cars and smart drones to smart manufacturing and intelligent retail. One example is Singapore’s new Jurong Lake District, which will testbed many pilot technology solutions as part of the country’s push towards becoming a Smart Nation. These solutions include a smart queue monitoring system, a seamless connectivity solution, smart park lighting, and driverless buggies to ferry people, among others.

This means more data will need to be analysed in real time –according to the Data Age 2025 study commissioned by Seagate, by 2025, almost 20 percent of data created will be real-time in nature – rather than be sent to the core of the network for processing. Enterprises will build on their central cloud computing architecture and develop the ability to process – and, equally importantly, securely store – more data at the edge. 

Under an edge computing model, data analytics is only partly reliant on the network bandwidth as most knowledge generation happens locally – close to the data source. Data is monitored, handled and stored away from the silo setup and closer to the end users with processing taking place either in the device itself, the edge data centre or in the fog layer.

An additional new role for the data centre The large traditional data centre has been the mainstay of computing and connectivity networks for more than half a century – and essentially all processing of transactions have been carried out in a centralized core – but mobility, technological advancements and economic demand mean that businesses will increasingly add edge elements to this essential core.

IoT technologies and AI-enabled applications need computing to happen at the edge and this will have an impact on the size and location of data centres that are built in the future.

The huge data centre model won’t become obsolete by any means and will still be used for a wide range of functions, but the rise of edge computing could see a larger number of smaller data centres built closer to population centres like cities and business parks.

Data centre infrastructure therefore could change and slowly become more distributed. There will likely be more storage hubs in regional markets and smaller cities, as well as micro data centres bolted onto parts of the existing communications infrastructure, such as telecom towers.

Those telephone towers are where the arrival of 5G, the next generation wireless standard, can really have an impact. As more computing power and storage are needed to handle rapidly growing numbers of edge applications, it makes sense to place this on top of existing infrastructure.

A new network from the old

Micro data centres could be deployed at the base of telecom towers and other important points in the existing wireless network. In fact, IDC predicts that telecom providers will increasingly add micro-data centres that are either integrated into or located adjacent to 5G towers as they build up their 5G capabilities. Therefore, there could be far higher numbers of data centres around, but the majority of these will be unrecognizable from the warehouse-sized locations of today.

Growing numbers of data centres, though, means that storage and security imperatives are more widely distributed, too. Businesses will demand that the same level of performance and security they enjoy from centralized data centres is replicated in this more distributed future. For this to happen, security and storage solutions must be considered at the start of planning processes and not tacked on at the end once new models are ready to roll out.

Edge-driven systems will work alongside cloud and the huge data centre model will still thrive and be vital to all kinds of businesses. As demand for edge devices and applications increases, this part of the network could see big growth.


Robert Yang, Vice President, Asia Pacific Sales, Seagate Technology