As digital services become more tightly integrated into every aspect of today’s economy, data centres located at the edge of the network continue to grow at a rapid rate.
These edge computing solutions frequently host the data and applications that form the closest interaction with customers, they therefore must be as reliable and as secure as the largest Hyperscale data centres occupied by today’s Internet Giants.
By nature, edge installations are small, distributed and frequently located where it is neither practical or cost-effective to have permanent on-site support staff. Furthermore, the fast-moving nature of today’s business requires that flexibility and speed of deployment are paramount for edge data centres, given that they are typically used to realise innovative business strategies and drive growth into new regions.
So how can companies deliver small, high-performance, flexible data centres that are cost-effective to acquire, quick to deploy and easy to maintain? Certainly, the trend towards hyper-convergence, with the critical products integrated into one system will help in terms of reliability and speed of deployment, but in truth a “one-stop shop” approach will not fit every business requirement.
According to Worldwide Technology, “The ability to pre-configure technology platforms and devices before shipment increases deployment speed and can reduce field engineering costs by 25% to 40%, increasing order processing speed by 20% and reducing maintenance costs by 7%.”
As such, a pre-integrated and collaborative approach within the edge ecosystem, in addition to rule-based configuration tools, reference designs and cloud-based management software are key to making edge solutions faster to deploy, more resilient, and cost-effective for customers.
The integrated ecosystem
Four key elements in such an ecosystem of partners is essential when supporting end-users, especially those keen to use digital technology to drive digitazation and enhance their business offering.
At the first stage of the ecosystem are the IT vendors themselves. They supply the servers, storage, networking and software necessary to support the end-user’s business objectives. Interoperability between hardware products, preferably based on industry standards, is essential and allows such specialist vendors to innovate their own hardware or software offers, while benefitting from the innovations of others.
Secondly, there are the physical infrastructure vendors who provide the equipment that ensures the IT function remains secure and operational. This includes racks, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), power distribution units (PDUs), cooling systems and environmental monitoring equipment.
Speed of deployment demands that such vendors make their products available in a variety of modular formats for rapid integration and that they produce reference designs — blueprints of physical infrastructure solutions – that are created in a number of specifications and require only minor modification by customers before deployment. Here it is also essential that such vendors ensure their products can integrate with common management software systems for ease of operation.
The third element of the ecosystem comprises systems integrators, those with specialist knowledge of technologies that are used to pre-assemble and pre-integrate IT and infrastructure equipment into rapidly scalable, repeatable and bespoke edge solutions for customers.
Once the solution is functional and in operation, the fourth element is deliivered by managed service providers (MSP’s), who provide monitoring and maintenance services according to a strict service level agreement (SLA). The nature of edge data centres is that they are usually small installations, often in remote locations where it is neither practical, nor cost-effective to have permanent technical staff on-site. Hence the requirement for specialist MSP’s to manage their operation is further compounded.
Cloud-based, mobile-friendly management software is key
Key to enabling success for Managed Service Providers is Cloud-based data centre infrastructure (DCIM) management software, such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT.
Here sensors and firmware installed within the edge solution provides status information and through a combination of software, mobile devices, apps and analytics, such data will be aggregated into an overall management system and made available to specialist service personnel anywhere and on any device.
In this way scheduled maintenance operations, including upgrades and component replacements, can be managed remotely and proactively planned, whilst enabling rapid response in the case of an unplanned event or outage.
Naturally, the four elements of the ecosystem surrounding the customer may not need to be provided by four separate entities. Many large organisations will of course have specialist service personnel within their IT division who can provide remote managed services within the company. Conversely, many IT vendors and infrastructure providers may have their own systems-integration capabilities, and in turn many specialist systems integrators are often able to provide on-going managed services as part of their portfolio.
Nevertheless, the requirements for a successful implementation of a hybrid IT architecture demands appreciation of the distinct elements in the ecosystem and a determination to ensure that they can and will interact as seamlessly and as efficiently as possible.
Within the ecosystem, collaboration between critical infrastructure Vendors, IT providers, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), MSP’s and Systems Integrators, is essential when providing the end-user with the right solution. Paying close attention to all of the critical elements within the ecosystem will help to ensure both effective operation and 24/7 availability for today’s digital businesses.