Life On The Edge: Why Micro Data Centers Are The Next Frontier

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edge computing

Solution providers that have been hit hard by a data center hardware retreat are finding sales and profit growth by living on the edge—the network edge, that is.

The edge computing phenomenon—powered by an Internet of Things revolution—has opened up a new frontier for solution providers working with hardware and software vendors of all sizes and shapes.

The same customers that moved aggressively to reduce their data center footprints in the midst of the cloud computing boom are now, ironically, rushing to buy compute at the edge. They see micro data centers—self-contained, stand-alone rack-level systems at the edge—as the means to gain a competitive advantage in the IoT gold rush.

"2010 was the decade of the cloud, but 2020 will be the decade of micro data centers," said Jeff Ready, CEO of Scale Computing, a hyper-converged midmarket hardware appliance maker that is working closely with its partners to drive edge compute solutions.

Indianapolis-based Scale Computing is one of a number of vendors retooling their product and partner strategies to drive edge computing sales growth. Other vendors betting big on the edge: APC by Schneider Electric, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Dell Technologies, Eaton, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and its Aruba networking subsidiary, HP, Intel and Vertiv.

Even cloud computing behemoths Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, which prospered from the data center retreat, are placing big bets.

In edge computing, sensors and other connected devices collect and analyze IoT data locally, alleviating the dependence on cloud or internet connectivity in specific situations where information needs to be processed quickly, reliably and securely. That means compute, storage and network connectivity are all at the edge—either on the IoT device itself or in a local gateway—and data is processed there.

Today, new trends such as improved NVM Express storage, mobile computing and the decreasing cost of computer components are moving data from centralized, cloud-based systems to decentralized edge systems, said Ready.

Scale Computing has sought to lead the charge in edge computing with its new HC3 Edge platform, a hyperconverged infrastructure system introduced in November that's purpose-built for edge computing environments like lightweight IoT devices or larger micro data centers.

Many customers remain confused about how they can take advantage of and drive value from edge applications— and that's where channel partners can step in, Ready said. "The opportunity for the channel lies with customers to the edge and maintaining the edge environments moving forward."

Bill Barnier, sales manager at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.- based solution provider Data Partner, said he is now seeing large customers that have put data in the cloud begin to "pull things in-house" and keep their computing local.

"I feel a fear in the market today as customers are concerned about putting all their information in the cloud. … I see there's a bigger mixed play of both pushing compute at the edge and dabbling in the cloud."

Data Partner's sales team has built up skill sets around virtualization and compute to better understand how to tap into edge computing solutions, he said.

"We're bringing in guys with virtualization backgrounds who can deploy and implement services on these plays. … We want to shift gears and learn about how people are doing compute," Barnier said. "It's been a learning curve for the team because you have to better understand the compute side of the business and how to implement it."

Data Partners is working with several large retail customers to run compute applications on smaller appliances including Intel NUCs or towers at the edge.

"A lot of people want to go hyper-converged and keep their computing local … I'm seeing a lot of that," he said. "Companies like Scale Computing and Nutanix are doing well in that play because customers want to use a platform where they can put all their eggs in one basket."

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