The edge solution space is developing increasingly fast. As a CTO I get fewer questions along the lines of “why edge?” and increasingly along the lines of “tell me how your software can help support my edge strategy?”. My anecdata-based (hey, I am the CTO after all) observation is that a growing set of enterprises have made up their mind that placing applications close to data sources, i.e. the edge, has clear and easily understood value as an integral part of a broader digital strategy.
And then I came across the work of a team that has put some significant time and resources towards exploring this. “Leading with edge: How to reinvent with data and AI” is a great read from our friends at Accenture. They have surveyed a large number of people (2,100 C-level executives in 18 industries across 16 countries) about their future plans and approaches to edge computing. The findings are comprehensive and generally interesting all the way through, but there is a particular angle that stood out to me as it relates to us at Avassa.
By mapping out how (1) deeply integrated edge computing is as an extension to their existing infrastructure, i.e. private and public cloud, and (2) self-assessed outcome, they found some interesting clusters:
Our research found four main enterprise approaches to edge (Table 1). These approaches can be viewed as relative to their integration of edge into the digital core, which leverages the power of cloud, data, AI through a set of interoperable systems that allow for the rapid development of capabilities.
In my mind, the most interesting shift happens between users that have a tactical approach vs an integrated approach to utilizing edge. For the tactical approach, users tend to ” buy full-package edge solutions from independent software vendors (ISVs), with minimal customization possible […]” with the result being that they “[…]significantly lag in implementing edge across multiple enterprise functions.”
I find that interesting because that is an arguably more succinct description of what I tried to capture in an article called The second application challenge for distributed edge clouds some time ago. My observation at that point was that:
On one hand, there is value in quickly launching a self-contained first application to prove the value of edge-placed applications to internal stakeholders and create early operational experiences. But there is also great risk in not considering the operational situation down the line where each edge location will host a multitude of applications. The worst-case scenario includes getting stuck with many operational stove-pipes, one per application, and the significant cost and operations overhead associated with that. We call this over-rotation on quickly deploying a first application, and ignoring the ramifications on the second (and beyond) application the second application challenge.
I wrote the above article mostly to document a particular challenge such that I can reference it in conversations. But the article does not provide any detailed suggestion on how to address the core of the problem, but rather vaguely hints at a direction.
But our friends at Accenture goes on with a pretty comprehensive description of how some enterprises has gone past the Tactical into the Integrated (and eventually the Super Integrated) by embracing the edge as an extension to their existing capabilities, they write:
They recognize that edge is not a standalone technology but a topology that integrates centralized and distributed architectures needed to differentiate their core business.
It is humbling to find that a third-party has been able to nail the core of that we’re trying to achieve in so few words. The whole design of the Avassa solution is simply this; to allow IT & Platform teams and Application teams to extend their current capabilities and tooling to the on-site edge. We also talk about it in terms of “avoiding the swivel chair” between central and distributed compute. And this direction is deeply ingrained in how we have designed our solution, and the rationale behind some ambitious components of the system including:
- Data models that drives the CLI, REST APIs and Web UI to support declaratively defined applications and targeted deployments such that it is trivial to integrate with existing CI/CD, monitoring and observability tools. “Super Integrated” application teams needs a central and versioned definition of the topology of applications spanning central locations and the edge.
- Scalable and distributed logging features across layers (infrastructure, runtime, application) that can be easily integrated with existing logging frameworks. This enables correlation of health and behaviour data across central locations and the edge.
- Deep and isolated multi-tenancy with access policies that allows a multitude of application teams to deploy sets of applications across shared edge infrastructure using the tools and configurations they prefer. This unlocks the capability for a diverse set of internal enterprise functions to leverage the same edge-investment while providing IT with a point of control for security and compliance.
So without complicating things, based on the reading from Accenture I believe we have built a key piece of the vendor puzzle necessary for enterprises pursuing the (super) integrated strategy with edge computing. Without the integrated approach suggested by Accenture, the complexity of deploying multiple data- and AI-centric solutions will simply be operational insurmountable and impossible to defend cost-wise.
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