Bringing Edge to Irish enterprises of all sizes

Ivan Habovcik, Schneider Electric (Image: Schneider Electric)



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2 August 2017 | 0

Data centres are big news in Ireland at the moment. That is to say, big data centres are big news. Several of the world’s so-called internet giants and other major IT companies have constructed, or are in the process of constructing, large data centres in this country to meet the demands of cloud computing both here and internationally.

Cloud computing underpins the current trend of treating IT as a service, in which data and applications are located centrally in a large data centre and delivered to users over the Internet. Users access these services from a wide range of devices which may be desktop or notebook PCs, tablets or smart phones. Typically, large data centres are operated by specialist service providers who host computing and storage assets for several independent clients on the same site.

“Speed of response is not the only issue driving the adoption of edge computing. Physical security and the need to maintain control over customised applications only used within one’s own organisation might cause some reluctance to outsource certain applications or services to a managed services provider operating a colocation data centre”

Driving factors
Factors driving the adoption of cloud computing services from large data centres include the growth and reliability of network speed, capacity and availability; the increased virtualisation of both storage and computing power, allowing more efficient use of IT assets; the evolution of service providers specialising in all aspects of data-centre management to enable organisations to concentrate on their own businesses while leaving IT to the specialists; and the resulting lowering of costs, particularly capital costs, to end users.

However, the very success of cloud computing has seen new issues emerge. Spurred on by the success of digital services such as social media, video on demand and e-commerce the growth of data traffic shows no sign of slowing. An emerging force is the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) in which all manner of products from factory production equipment to consumer products will come with internet connectivity pre-installed to enable ongoing monitoring, maintenance firmware updates. Projections are that by 2020, there will be some 30 billion connected devices generating 15TB of data as well as 4 billion people accessing online digital services.

This is leading to a new phenomenon—in reality a cyclical phenomenon—called Edge Computing, in which smaller data centres, widely distributed geographically will emerge to deliver some of this explosive growth in data processing. The reason is very simple: from the earliest days of the Internet, analogies have been drawn with a road network. Motorways connect major centres of population, dual-carriageways or A-roads feed the less highly populated regions and at the bottom of the network chain are ‘boreens’ where traffic passes much more slowly and over shorter distances to end users.

Highways choked
Even the widest motorways, however, eventually become choked by the volume of traffic attempting to use them and the analogous world of the Internet is no different. A dependence on large data centres at the heart of the network creates traffic congestion that impairs the performance of electronic services. This can be remedied by moving those services that require speedy response times, such as video on demand or IoT traffic, to data centres closer to the users of those services. Meanwhile, services such as data archiving and e-mail that consume large volumes of data but for which speed of response and network latency are less critical issues, can remain in large centralised data centres.

Speed of response is not the only issue driving the adoption of edge computing. Physical security and the need to maintain control over customised applications only used within one’s own organisation might cause some reluctance to outsource certain applications or services to a managed services provider operating a colocation data centre. For many Irish organisations at the smaller end of the small and medium sized enterprises (SME) sector, owning and operating their own IT server infrastructure on-site may be a preferable option to outsourcing.

Nonetheless, edge computing installations must still meet similar standards of speed, availability, security and efficiency that we have come to expect from the largest colocation service providers. The core processing, storage and networking technology deployed at centralised data centres is identical, although in smaller volumes, to that found at the Edge of the network. Just as importantly, however, the support infrastructure such as power, cooling, environmental management and physical security must migrate out to the Edge with no reduction in capability.

Outsourced data centres
Since the emergence of the first wave of outsourced data centres at the turn of the century, a critical concern has been energy management driven by the need to control power costs and to limit environmental impact. The size and relative inefficiency of early data centres led to concerns that the demands placed on the national power grid would be overwhelming.

Since then, specialist vendors from all sectors of the IT industry, including infrastructure providers, have addressed the issue by developing more power efficient IT equipment and also considering cooling issues at the design stage of a data centre. The metric known as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) which is the ratio of total power consumption of a facility to the power consumed by IT equipment alone, has become a popular means of monitoring the efficiency of a data centre. The first data centres typically saw as much power consumed by their cooling and air conditioning equipment as on their IT equipment (a PUE rating of 2.0 or higher in some cases). Today, PUE ratings below 1.3 are a realistic target for new data centre installations.

Low PUE ratings are achieved by careful layout of the racks of a data centre, appropriate containment of airflows to achieve efficient cooling and variable speed fans in the equipment itself, designed to accommodate the load when required and to return to an idle state when not. A key element in achieving this is Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software which allows equipment to be monitored and managed from a central console.

Prefab systems
For edge data centres, prefabricated systems incorporating efficient cooling enclosures, built-in UPS systems and physical security features are available for rapid deployment. These vary in size from prefabricated buildings delivered on the back of a truck to small cabinets of racks and storage, complete with physical locks and/or biometric access controls, which can be wheeled into spare space in any office.

In the recent past, it was not unknown for Irish SMEs experiencing rapid growth to add new servers in an ad hoc manner to the most basic racks in any available space to the growing demands of their organisation. Each server would have its own power supplies, disk drives and enclosure resulting in much duplication and unnecessary consumption of space and power. Today, products taking account of the lessons learned about power efficiency, availability and performance at the centre of the network can be deployed efficiently and cost effectively at the edge of a network to meet the exact requirements of technology-dependent small businesses.



Ivan Habovcik is vice president, IT Division, Schneider Electric, Ireland


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