The ongoing debate about where “the edge” is … what it all really means
Today there is a renewed focus on “‘The Edge”, as more companies begin the realize the benefits of decreasing the latency between your users (Mobile devices, IoT or Web browsers) and your software (Website, AI platform, Video streams etc). But where exactly is the edge?
Before the multi-datacenter solution was The Edge. Then the Cloud was the Edge. Then the Content Distribution Network was the Edge. Now it’s the mobile towers? The end user device? Where is the EDGE!?
The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.- Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1966)
The Edge …. basics
So, what is edge and what is edge computing? The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that’s done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn’t mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.
Edge 1.0 : The Edge … of the Cloud
In the beginning there was The Cloud™, and infinitely scalable multi-datacenter deployment at the click of a button. In the old days, applications were deployed to one or maybe two datacenters (for disaster recovery). This meant you users had to travel whatever ‘internet distance’ was required to reach your server.
Then with the advent of cloud computing, deployments could now spread across multiple datacenters. At the time of writing the three biggest contenders run 18 datacenter regions (AWS), 50 datacenter regions (Azure) and 17 datacenter regions (Google Cloud) respectively, each with their own subdivision into isolated networks and availability zones. These datacenters exist on the major backbone networks , the main connection points of the internet (called IXs or Internet Exchanges).
With this new found multi-region deployment model, this means your users are now perhaps 3–10 ‘internet hops’ away from the your server. For example, from my house here in Los Angeles CA to AWS.AMAZON.COM I get the following:
- LA (internal network) -> LA (Time Warner Network)
- LA (Time Warner Network)-> LA (Time Warner Upstream)
- LA (Time Warner Upstream)-> Dallas (Time Warner Transit backbone)
- Dallas (Time Warner Transit backbone) -> Unknown Transit Provider
- Unknown Transit Provider-> Ashburn VA (Amazon)
[~ 100 milliseconds of latency ]