Blog Post

Edge Data Centers on the Rise

There have been multiple edge data center facility announcements recently, from startups to large tech companies to the big three cloud providers.

2020 looks to be a game-changing year for edge infrastructure. System operators are under increasing pressure – with the growth of 5G and latency-sensitive applications like IoT and VR, to make significant investments to build and lease edge datacenters and deploy IT equipment at the last mile. There have been multiple edge data center facility announcements recently, from startups to large tech companies to the big three cloud providers.

As investment grows in the infrastructure edge, today’s communication networks look set to significantly change. From a monitoring perspective, we must understand how the growth of last mile infrastructure and edge computing impacts the current digital experience monitoring strategies.

Early Industry Leaders Expand their Edge Datacenter Footprint

At Edge Congress late last year, several startups announced their plans for new edge data centers, including Denver-based EdgeMicro. The edge infrastructure company launched its first three micro commercial installations in Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Tampa, Florida, and said it was in progress on setting up a further 20 locations. The company said it already had tenants for its 20-foot micro datacenters, mainly hyperscalers and content providers.

Another early leader in the field, Vapor IO, has also recently announced its plans for additional sites across North America, fueled by a fundraising haul of $90M in series C financing. Vapor IO calls its micro datacenters Kinetic Edge. It already has Kinetic Edge sites deployed in four cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Pittsburgh with 16 markets in pre-construction, most of which it intends to build out over this year. In total, Vapor IO has 36 multi-site markets coming online over the next 24 months, which the company says it expects will make it “the largest provider of edge colocation, edge networking, and edge exchange services in close proximity to the last mile networks.”

Vapor IO also announced a big new customer recently, saying it was now partnering with Cloudflare to give the innovative CDN access to Vapor IO’s growing footprint of edge data centers to deliver Cloudflare Workers, its serverless computing platform, which lets developers run code at the edge.

Strategic Partnerships Grow

Another recent important announcement in the space is the intended acquisition of bare-metal cloud startup Packet by colocation giant Equinix. The developer-first startup has been building a “go anywhere” cloud model and has big plans for its bare metal hardware, which it says can be deployed in just 8 minutes. This provides customers with dedicated boxes on a rapid-deploy model, similar to spinning up virtual server instances on major cloud platforms, in contrast to the hours or days necessary to deploy a typical dedicated server.

Like Vapor IO, Packet’s growth is happening fast. Its first edge datacenter deployment was announced only two years ago at the base of a cell tower operated by SBA Communications. The company has since partnered with Vapor IO, Sprint and EdgeConneX to launch over 20 more edge computing locations on its bare cloud. Equinix is a significant step with its data centers in over 200 locations worldwide. Equinix says it intends to combine its interconnection technologies with Packet’s bare metal service and the expertise of its team to allow its customers to more quickly deploy computing resources in edge locations.

Equinix said that a combined Equinix and Packet solution would allow enterprises and service providers “to build and deploy low-latency services at the edge either through their choice of owned physical deployments or by utilizing the combined offering, which leverages as-a-service consumption to reduce CAPEX and resource requirements.”

The Big Cloud Providers Enter the Fray

Meanwhile, the big cloud providers are also beginning to enter the edge infrastructure fray and experiment with launching their own edge data centers. As the Catchpoint-sponsored 2020 State of the Edge phrases it, “as the demand for edge applications grows, the cloud will drift to the edge.” The report imagines a not too far-off future in which developers will be able to provision cloud instances in highly specific areas, such as Chicago West, in the same way that today you can provision one in US West. “Much of the edge will become part of a cloud-like experience”, they say, “delivered on a much more fine-grained basis.”

At ReInvent in December, alongside 20 or so additions to the cloud giant’s already enormous service catalog, AWS announced three new edge services, something entirely new for the company.

In LA, AWS has piloted its new AWS Local Zones service with Netflix and visual-effects studios FuseFX and Luma Pictures. AWS has essentially deployed an edge datacenter (it calls it “a new type of AWS infrastructure deployment”) within a building it manages so that digital artists working on a film for Netflix can use AWS services for latency-sensitive applications from their computer. Instead of data having to make several network hops to the closest AWS full-fledged availability region in Oregon and back, it simply goes to the LA Local Zone, achieving what CEO Andy Jassy calls “single-digit milliseconds” latency. Jassy said we can expect the company to launch many more such locations in the future.

Meanwhile, in Chicago the company has launched a different kind of edge datacenter, which it is calling AWS Wavelength. It is located inside a Verizon network switching facility: a Service Access Point, or SAP, in contrast to the cell towers or nearby locations that Vapor IO and Packet are using for some of their edge data centers.

The Chicago micro-site is the first location in which AWS is providing its computing services for applications that use Verizon’s 5G wireless connectivity. Jassy explained that to do “something meaningful” with the ultra-low latency 5G connectivity between a smartphone and its carrier network, you need a certain amount of storage and compute capacity. If that capacity is sitting multiple network hops and too many miles away, the low latency provided by the 5G connection at the last mile becomes irrelevant.

The goal is to have similar coverage in 30 US cities by the end of the year, working with various telcos, not just Verizon.

Monitoring at the Infrastructure Edge

With tech companies like Dell also announcing their plans in the edge data center space and even Walmart rumored to be entering the arena, the Internet and our communication networks are changing before our eyes.

The edge may be a new frontier, but as always, the only way to fix problems is to monitor from where it matters the most. If you have an app hosted on the edge and you are monitoring from a regional data center, it won’t tell you whether your edge app is working well or not. It’s like everything else, the monitoring needs to be located where the app is.

This is where Catchpoint’s unparalleled geographic footprint comes in. We currently have 825 vantage points worldwide, a number which is growing all the time. Our nodes allow us to fulfill our mission to improve digital experiences by monitoring from as many different geographic, network and infrastructure vantage points as possible.

Where you monitor from is as crucial as what you monitor. Our extensive Backbone and Broadband Nodes eliminate last mile variations brought in by the end user’s network. Our Last Mile Nodes, meanwhile, let you monitor directly from the last mile. This is particularly helpful when monitoring at the edge. Your end user doesn’t connect directly to a backbone provider, but instead to a local ISP or mobile provider via a “last mile” access network. By correlating last mile monitoring with backbone and broadband, you can determine if performance problems are related to site infrastructure or the end user’s network.

At Catchpoint, we offer several other features, which allow you to monitor specifically at the edge to find out what performance is like at different edge locations. These include Network Insights (a product you can use to create custom breakdowns and custom metrics to monitor from an edge compute platform or CDN perspective) and Request Overrides (a way of doing analysis on a new Point of Presence(PoP) or edge location without making production changes). For more information on monitoring at the edge, read Catchpoint CEO Mehdi Daoudi’s blog post, Monitoring at the Edge of the Third Act of the Internet.

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