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End of an era: Cloud Decline rise of Edge Computing?

In recent years the rate of cloud adoption has increased rapidly, with more and more computing being pushed into the cloud, a trend identified in Serviceteam IT’s Cloud Snapshot Survey 2017. This growth in cloud computing has led to the development of networks of large data centres. However, this trend is already beginning to slow, with an ever-increasing amount of computing moving back to the ‘edge’ of local networks. Welcome to Edge Computing.

The rise of the cloud in the early 2010s triggered disruption, as start-ups and incumbent firms scrambled to take advantage of this trend in cloud adoption. A similar trend is likely to occur with this move back towards the edge, with the fight this time concerning who will control edge computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). Major cloud providers such as AWS and Microsoft may try to extend their reach to incorporate this into their control, or alternatively this may be monopolised by an entirely new and as yet unknown collection of firms.

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Fluctuation between centralisation and decentralisation of commercial computing has been a repetitive trend since the 1950s. Until the 1970s computing was limited to mainframes, which was then replaced by a more decentralised system with the rise of smaller machines in the 1980s. During this period applications were accessed by personal computers but lived in PCs in corporate data centres. Centralisation reappeared with the rise of the cloud in the 2000s. Each wave saw a different firm rise to the top, first IBM, then Microsoft and now AWS.

Why is cloud dominance ending?

The recent trend in more distributed computing can be in part explained by the recent improvements in technology and networking. Devices ranging from smartphones to machinery are becoming more intelligent, tackling problems that would have in the past required full servers. Additionally, the increased flexibility of software means it can also function well on in edge computing.

Non-technical factors also have a part to play in the increased migration to edge computing. Data protection laws in many countries now require that data stays within the borders of a country, Germany being an example of this, or within the walls of a company. Increasing concern about data leaks means many companies once again prefer to keep their data in house, and hence the increased decentralisation of computing.

In addition, an interview with the largest UK technology fleet management organisation, conducted by Serviceteam IT as part of the Cloud Snapshot Survey, revealed that:

“. . . moving to the cloud has made business processes more complex in some cases; creating rather than solving problems.”

For this reason many firms are beginning to migrate to an alternative to cloud computing. You can read more about the impact of Edge Computing on IT Operations and Network Infrastructure over at Gartner.

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Is the end of cloud computing the beginning of edge computing?

Whilst it is generally accepted that migration to the edge is currently underway, there is no clear consensus as to how this will impact the technology sector. Nobody expects this to be the end of cloud computing entirely. It is predicted that centralised clouds provided by firms such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google will continue to grow. However, smaller and more localised data centres are beginning to appear everywhere. It has also been speculated that Amazon bought Whole Foods grocery chain last year as a way of accumulating property to use as local data centres.

This shift has been identified by computer makers as a way of regaining territory that has been lost over time. Hardware manufacturers, such as Dell and HP, see this as a chance to sell more gear to firms that want to process their data locally. Big-cloud providers are also trying to take control of the periphery. This can clearly be seen in the change in Microsoft’s in slogan from originally ‘mobile first, cloud first’ to now ‘intelligent cloud and intelligent edge’. AWS also now has a service called Greengrass, which works to turn clusters of IoT devices into mini-clouds.

Whoever prevails, computing is set to become more mobile, found in even the smallest devices. Processing will always occur wherever it is best placed for a given application at a given time. Cloud has given us flexibility of computing resources, but we can’t help but think that reliable, elastic and on-demand networking is imperative to deliver the future.
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