Edge cloud—which stores and processes data closer to the end user—is quickly emerging as an investment priority for communication service providers (CSPs) because it offers critical advantages over traditional cloud approaches.

By avoiding traffic backhaul to the core, edge clouds not only reduce latency—which is essential for supporting time-sensitive applications—they also reduce bandwidth usage, peering and transit costs, and probable congestion issues, introducing new efficiencies for telcos.

Processing data at the edge also reduces the likelihood of connectivity or performance issues for latency-sensitive applications that often occur over long multi-hop connections. Well-implemented edge cloud infrastructures can also ensure business continuity use cases by storing copies of data at other nearby edge facilities and invoking fail-over options closer to the original data. That can make recovery and restoration faster if problems emerge.

Edge cloud advantages go beyond speed, efficiency, and reliability, and can easily translate into business benefits as well. In addition to never-seen use cases optimized for specific industry verticals, potential innovations include new pricing models based on latency, or distance traffic travels—for instance, traffic that is processed at the tower, traffic that traverses the metro, and traffic that is backhauled across the core may be charged at different rates. As a result, processing at the foot of a wireless tower connected to fast backhaul might incur a higher margin than one placed further away.

The opportunities—and challenges—ahead

While edge cloud computing may still lurk over the horizon for many telcos, shimmering oasis-like in the distance, that will change quickly in the next few years as evolving client requirements draw this complex new model into sharp focus. The not-for-profit Linux Foundation anticipates that global edge computing infrastructure revenues could top $800 billion by 2028, according to its 2021 State of the Edge Report.

But turning those projected revenues into profits is another matter. CSPs frequently cite costs—both capital costs to deploy facilities and operational costs to run and maintain them—as concerns. Current operations approaches, which rely extensively on manual processes and legacy operational support systems (OSS), are too fragmented and slow to provide the real-time, multi-vendor, multi-domain command and control that is needed to effectively provide end-to-end service lifecycle management. Equally challenging, CSPs are already facing a lack of trained support personnel—where will these new technicians come from, and at what cost?

In order to effectively maintain a highly efficient edge cloud infrastructure—in which networks and applications operate in concert to maintain performance and meet service level agreements—CSPs need a highly automated, software-centric operations environment.

Automation Is key to the Edge Cloud ecosystem

The edge cloud demands a new operational model that can manage multiple physical resources and virtual network functions—from security to load balancing—that may reside on different hosts, across multiple domains, and even in different facilities—including some that the CSP doesn't own. Resource provisioning, management including scaling up or down, and troubleshooting—in short, the entire lifecycle management of edge services—must be done at machine speed in order to effectively manage the complex fabric of interconnections between the customer and the edge cloud network.

This complexity will only increase as 5G—which will be a key component in many edge environments—enters the fray. Telcos will find themselves managing multiple 5G network slices serving different client applications within this new edge-based infrastructure.

Successfully deploying and operating these modern networks means rethinking the telco architecture and the operations support system (OSS) software that underpins it. Operators will need to decouple the infrastructure from the OSS, adopt standardized interfaces, use modular components that can be non-disruptively changed independently of one another.

Automating this environment is also an imperative—to meet the real-time demands of the edge, reduce human error, optimize performance and resources, and achieve profitable scale. Telcos must dynamically control this multi-cloud, multi-vendor, multi-technology infrastructure programmatically via software—not human intervention—using intent and invoking policies that can meet fast-changing conditions while providing guided operations and self-healing closed loop remediation when problems arise.

This evolution to edge cloud computing is well underway, and telcos that invest wisely in infrastructure and operations today will be ready to capture new edge cloud opportunities as the market matures. Underpinning this evolution is intelligent automation that addresses full-service lifecycle management end-to-end across complex multi-vendor environments.

Driven by intelligent automation, telcos and other key edge players can design and deliver new edge services in moments; effectively meet diverse application requirements and user demands at scale; and proactively assure service performance and reliability to create an agile, robust, and profitable edge cloud ecosystem.

Explore more of edge computing's benefits and applications in this free webinar.