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How 5G is making the cloud edgy

(Image credit: / Who Is Danny)

2020 has changed every aspect of life, and this is particularly true when it comes to the way we work. Gone are the centralized office environments as we once knew them; now, the daily workplace has now been relocated to suburban residences that are distributed throughout our cities and towns. Because of this change, network traffic has been shifted out of city business districts and into the home office environment. With people working remotely, applications that were once accessed only in a controlled office building or campus must now be accessed from virtually anywhere. Employees today expect the same seamless connection enjoyed in the traditional in-office experience, with thousands more touch points than before. For network providers and the people responsible keeping all these employees connected this means they have their work cut out for them.

The good news is that similar, though smaller scale, circumstances existed before the pandemic that have driven innovations to support this needed reality. The evolution of the manufacturing industry, for instance; Internet of Things (IoT) devices designed to help enable the Industry 4.0 Factory of the Future are beginning to be rolled out across the world. Those devices all need consistent and resilient connections to keep operations humming, and that centralized cloud data center that we all experienced first in our now cloud-enabled world will likely not be the best choice to support latency-sensitive applications such as real-time machine tool control, or process flow control.

With the increased roll-out and adoption of these and other latency-sensitive applications – such as driverless robots in warehouses, cloud-based Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) applications and the tactile internet – traditional centralized cloud architectures, in which the cloud data center was located where land and power were cheapest without regard to latency or mean-time-to-cloud (MTTC),  simply will not cut it for current needs. 

Market grows

So fear not: your network and applications will not suddenly crash due to a lack of compute power, clogged bandwidth or severe latency issues! A monumental shift is set to occur with the cloud moving closer to the edge and as close to the user as necessary. It could be to help better manage an IoT conveyor-belt sensor or access files from a remote desktop; maybe it’s facilitating safety protocols for a connected vehicle or helping a video producer who needs significant compute power to render footage. All of these circumstances are driving this shift, that is occurring with the formation of the Edge Cloud.

In the rapidly emerging Edge Cloud era, thousands of smaller data centers are being created as close to where the content is generated, consumed, and processed by both humans and machines as required. This is not just to reduce latency, but also to lower transport costs, increase security, and in some cases, enable better data sovereignty compliance.

5G is a primary catalyst behind Edge Cloud: generalized computing resources closer to the edge are already required by mobile network operators themselves to roll out 5G core infrastructure and by building the carrier edge using cloud architectures they are also able to create a distributed platform that supports new and emerging use-cases and applications. When designed properly, 5G infrastructures will not consume all of the available edge compute capabilities, leaving sufficient resources to enable the latency-sensitive distributed applications to work effectively.

As a result, the global edge data center market is expected to increase by more than $7 billion by 2024, and new relationships (and battles) between traditional telcos and internet content providers will continue to evolve. This shift means data center numbers will explode across the globe, and thousands more edge data centers will be set to roll out in the coming years in order to meet this need.  Not to mention, as 5G and Edge Clouds are rolled out across the world, service providers and internet content providers have a unique opportunity to work with a clean slate.

Delivering best connectivity

An adaptive, responsive network must be included to intelligently manage both the connectivity infrastructure and the application dependent capacity resources for Edge Cloud data centers. An adaptive network can automatically balance bandwidth loads and reallocate resources to where they are most needed.


Additionally, the implementation of SDN, NFV, and open APIs will ensure providers can simplify the act of managing, securing, and automating their networks for delivering Edge Cloud services across multi-vendor, multi-domain hybrid networks.

Finally, an infrastructure that can adjust its resources, as needed, to meet the demands of the application layer will be key for enabling an application aware network and enable scalability for interconnecting fabrics between and within Edge Cloud data centers.

In this paradigm, the work-from-home (WFH) office can now access data-intensive applications with compute power now conveniently placed wherever it is needed – and latency is reduced with the resiliency and speed of the 5G connection. This will be critical to maintaining business as we continue to shift toward a likely long-term distributed and remote workforce model.

In other spheres, we will see advancements like the driverless vehicle will now be provided with the low latency required to react quickly to the world around it with edge data centers scattered across the nation, and manufacturing plants being able to employ machines to work autonomously, with little human intervention necessary. Whether in the future we work from home or from an office, this adaptive intelligent network will bring the needed cloud resources to us with resilient connectivity.

If network and cloud providers get this right, the adaptive network will become a key strategic growth platform for the Information and Communications Technology industry. The business impact will be in the trillions of dollars. And how we function at home, on the factory floor or in the vehicle will be permanently transformed and improved.

When the network is adaptive, intelligent and closer to the user, network and cloud providers alike can ensure they’re delivering the best possible connectivity experiences. It is certainly an exciting time in network connectivity, and providers are only going to improve the delivery of services as 5G continues to roll out.

Steve Alexander, CTO, Ciena

Steve Alexander is currently Ciena’s Chief Technology Officer .He joined the company in 1994, and received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Georgia Instituteof Technology.