Edge computing is now well established as an opportunity to drive innovation by putting compute resources closer to where they are needed. From manufacturers who are applying edge computing on the factory floor to monitor machine data and inspect outputs or a chain of retail stores that have deployed edge-based solutions to run their critical applications, the appetite for edge computing is growing by the day.
One of the first and most important steps for any edge journey begins with finding the right solution vendor. There are now dozens of vendors who offer some flavor of edge functionality - but as is the case with any enterprise technology, you’ll need to be able to read through the marketing fluff to determine which capabilities matter most to your specific use case. What follows are just a few questions that should be part of every evaluation along with a brief explanation as to why they’re important.
1. How resilient is your edge solution? What type of automated failover capabilities does the edge solution possess?
For most edge deployments, skilled IT staff are typically not on-site to troubleshoot issues when they arise. This is especially true for organizations that maintain numerous remote branch offices where technical resources are in short supply. The resilience of a prospective edge solution should be considered as a core selection criteria so you’ll want to ask several questions about how a prospective vendor ensures availability in the event of a disruptive event. A mature edge solution should be able to demonstrate how their systems can automatically failover to another node and minimize downtime in the event of a disruption.
2. What type of software do you use to manage the edge systems and what type of automation capabilities does your solution possess?
A robust edge computing solution is more than just an integrated stack of compute, networking and storage equipment (and few so-called edge vendors meet this minimum standard!). What makes edge truly deliver value, lies in the ability to intelligently orchestrate these infrastructure components as a unified whole so that your edge systems can quickly adapt to evolving conditions. The software that keeps these systems running is like the cerebral cortex of your edge network and a mature edge solution should also include built-in automation capabilities that can successfully mitigate small issues before they cascade into a full-blown outage. Beyond evaluating the intelligence of a prospective edge solution, you should also be mindful of its usability. If the software is too complex then usage will be limited to those select individuals who fully understand it. Finally, any worthy edge solution provider should be able to provide a live demonstration of their software’s capabilities. Even better, they should offer a free trial version of their edge solution to help you evaluate it in your real-world environment.
3. Are there any additional licensing fees for virtual machines?
Before you can sell your leadership team on an edge computing solution, you’ll need to understand the fully loaded costs of the infrastructure you’re buying. Imagine purchasing a new car only to find out that at the end of every year that you need to pay additional fees to fully utilize all of its capabilities? Therefore it’s important to consider all of the costs - for instance, do you need an additional license for a hypervisor like VMware or for advanced virtualization features like software defined storage? Do you need to purchase additional tools to remotely monitor remote hardware and software (i.e. VMWare vCenter or other cloud based management tools). You can read more about the hidden costs of VMware in this CRN interview with Scale Computing CEO, Jeff Ready.
4. How will maintenance and upgrades of remote devices and systems be handled?
The ease in which you can maintain your edge infrastructure should also be a key consideration when evaluating a potential solution. By their very nature, edge systems exist and operate in remote locations. This might mean a remote office far away from headquarters or it could be something even more extreme such as a freighter in the middle of the ocean. And because trained IT staff won’t be available to maintain and update these systems, it’s imperative that you understand the time and effort that will be required to keep your edge deployment up-to-date and fully operational. For organizations that have deployed edge to multiple different locations, it’s also important to assess an edge vendor’s ability to centrally deploy new functional and security updates across their estate and whether they are able to roll these out in a non-disruptive fashion.
5. How easily does your edge solution integrate with different cloud environments?
While many in the industry believe that the edge and the cloud are in fierce competition with one another, the reality is that there is a role and function for both and they should ideally complement each other. As the authors of this FCC whitepaper write, “instead of being in competition with each other, forward-looking organizations, and even many public cloud service providers, are beginning to consider how to selectively employ both.” A mature edge provider should be able to demonstrate integrations with the major public cloud providers including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure, and IBM Cloud and should also be able to seamlessly run VMs in container environments such as Kubernetes and Docker.
6. How much training does your solution typically require for staff to be productive?
Every new solution that is introduced into your environment represents another layer of potential complexity. And while every tool will require some degree of training for the individuals tasked with managing your edge environment, the complexity of some tools will require significantly more time and effort than others. Because your IT staff already has too much on their plate, you don’t want them to have to spend days or weeks working to get certified on a new system. The most feature-rich edge solutions should pay as much attention to the usability and intuitiveness of their platform as they do to their capabilities matrix.
7. Can we speak to other customers in our industry who have deployed your edge solution?
Finally and perhaps most important of all, before making a final decision about a particular edge provider, you’ll want to speak to other businesses in your industry and their firsthand experience with a particular vendor as their insights can help identify potential issues and questions to ask by getting the unvarnished truth from other technology professionals who have actually applied the technology. Peer-review sites like Gartner Peer Insights, Spiceworks, and TrustRadius also provide an essential lens into the real-world application of edge technologies and should be part of any due diligence process before making a final purchase decision.