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The SMB Should Love Edge Computing

Edge computing is the fastest growing segment of IT. There are a number of different definitions of edge computing flying around that overlap with IoT and fog computing (which, like the name, is even more poorly defined.) So what is it and why does it matter to the SMB?

The way I am defining edge computing here is: physical computing infrastructure that is intentionally located outside the four walls of the data center. The purpose of edge computing is to place applications, compute, and storage resources near to where they are needed, used, and where data is collected.

Edge Computing for the SMB?

If you are part of the SMB, you are likely either thinking, “I have multiple locations so this might fit me,” or, “I only have one or two locations and this doesn’t fit me.” Either way, you should be paying attention to what is happening in edge computing and be loving it.

Edge computing is driving IT infrastructure in a direction that is perfectly suited for the SMB. the difference between edge computing and traditional ROBO deployments is that edge computing is supporting more critical applications. That means edge computing systems have to be more reliable, easy to use, easy to deploy, highly available, efficient, high performance, self-healing, and best of all, affordable.

Small but Critical

Edge computing sites are characterized by having critical application needs but where there is little, or often no onsite IT staff to manage them. These sites have very specific computing needs and therefore may need much smaller deployments than the primary data center site. There may be dozens or hundreds of these smaller edge computing sites in an organization. These organizations cannot afford to roll out complex, expensive IT infrastructure to each of these sites. They need affordable, right-sized, easy-to-manage infrastructure.

The needs of an edge computing site might range from a small form factor like a tower system or IoT sized platform no bigger than a Raspberry Pi, or up to a cluster of computing appliances that form a micro data center. It is nearly the same range as you would expect to see in the SMB. Whatever the size, they need to keep the critical apps that drive the business up and running.

Automation

In order for these smaller systems to keep applications running without dedicated IT staff onsite, they require automation. Automation first makes the systems easier to use by eliminating a lot of mundane manual IT tasks where human error can cause problems. Automation also keeps the systems running through monitoring for complex system failure conditions and taking automatic actions to correct those conditions.

Automation can eliminate downtime that would normally take a system offline and require an IT staffer to come onsite to bring it back online. Even when hardware components fail, automation can shift application workloads to redundant hardware components to continue operating.

Easy to Manage

These infrastructure systems need to be easy to deploy and easy to manage. An organization with hundreds of sites can’t afford to take weeks deploying complex hardware per site. They need to be able to quickly drop in the infrastructure, bring systems online, and remotely manage those sites going forward. The more complex the infrastructure, the more they end up spending deploying and managing it.

For the most part, these systems should just run with little to no management.  “Self-healing,” that being automated error detection, mitigation, and correction, is key to providing high availability for applications without straining the IT staff resources. When management tasks are needed, they should be able to be performed remotely and with ease. That task, maybe a system update, may need to be performed at each site. If such a task requires many hours or even days of work per site, then performing the task at hundreds of sites becomes very costly or even completely impractical. Automation is the key to making the management of these many sites possible.

Reap the Rewards

Even if an SMB organization doesn’t have any specific edge computing needs, they are going to reap the benefits that edge computing is driving. In order to deploy IT infrastructure to so many small, remote sites, larger organizations are going to drive IT infrastructure to be all the things SMB would want it to be: easier to use, more efficient, more reliable, and more affordable.

And yes, IT infrastructure is always moving in that direction. Today, edge computing is at the leading edge of that trend.