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The Edge Will Eat The Cloud

by Tom Bittman  |  March 6, 2017  |  22 Comments

Today, cloud computing is eating enterprise data centers, as more and more workloads are born in the cloud, and some are transforming and moving to the cloud. But there’s another trend that will shift workloads and data and processing and business value significantly away from the cloud. The edge will eat the cloud. And this is perhaps as important as the cloud computing trend ever was.Edge Eat

Several overlapping trends are colliding: (1) cloud computing, centralizing IT for massive economies of scale and agile provisioning, volatility and growth, (2) the Internet of Things (IoT), where things are becoming connected and sending reams of data, (3) machine learning, taking all of that data and improving processing and predictions, (4) Augmented and Mixed Reality (along with Virtual Reality), where people can interact with other people and things both in physical and virtual worlds, and (5) Digital Business and the Digital World, where connections between things and people are pushing us to more and more real-time interactions and decisions.

The agility of cloud computing is great – but it simply isn’t enough. Massive centralization, economies of scale, self-service and full automation get us most of the way there – but it doesn’t overcome physics – the weight of data, the speed of light. As people need to interact with their digitally-assisted realities in real-time, waiting on a data center miles (or many miles) away isn’t going to work. Latency matters. I’m here, right now, and I’m gone in seconds. Put up the right appealing advertising before I look away, point out the store that I’ve been looking for as I drive, let me know that a colleague is heading my way, help my self-driving car avoid other cars through a busy intersection. And do it now.

It’s one thing to have local processing next to a number of fixed devices, monitoring pipeline pressure, etc. – it’s another when those things are in flight, moving constantly, and perhaps even appearing – digitally – at a location. Sure – software is a thing, too, and software agents could be sent somewhere on the edge to deal with an event, provide information, or interact with people and things locally.

All of this requires processing power and storage, lots of it. And data analytics tools. And tools to push software and data to the edge. And tools to federate across the edge, and with the centralized cloud. And machine learning on the edge itself.

The edge will need some serious muscle.

Cloud computing providers are really good at managing their standardized, centralized, massively-scaled data centers and control software. But the technologies for the edge will be completely different, much more dynamic, much more evolutionary and competitive. Cloud providers are trying to reach out now and subsume control of the edge before the edge takes off. Cloud providers would very much like the edge to simply be a part of “the cloud.” And it might be. But I think it’s more likely the edge will carry its own weight, driven more by consumers and consumer experiences than enterprises. A completely different kind of workload. The edge will create some serious winners and losers, both in terms of vendors, and businesses. The edge can’t be ignored, because it could be a serious competitive advantage. And in the physical world, at least, there will be a land-grab for the edge (the land grab in the future metaverse is a completely different story).

The time to have an edge strategy is very, very soon. Watch as VR goggles start to take off, and heads-up displays in cars, and mixed reality apps on smartphones (doing more than Pokemon), and maybe Google Glass II. These technologies will push the edge explosion, soon.

For the last several years, enterprises have focused on cloud computing, and have been developing strategies to “move to the cloud” or at least “expand into the cloud.” It’s been a one-way, straight highway. There’s a sharp left turn coming ahead, where we need to expand our thinking beyond centralization and cloud, and toward location and distributed processing for low-latency and real-time processing. Customer experience won’t simply be defined by a web site experience. The cloud will have its role, but the edge is coming, and it’s going to be big.

Category: agility  big-data  cloud  digital-business  edge  

Tags: agility  cloud-computing  edge  future-of-infrastructure  

Thomas J. Bittman
VP Distinguished Analyst
20 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Thomas Bittman is a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research. Mr. Bittman has led the industry in areas such as private cloud computing and virtualization. Mr. Bittman invented the term "real-time infrastructure," which has been adopted by major vendors and many… Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Edge Will Eat The Cloud


  1. Saurabh Shankar says:

    This is great write-up and definitely “food for thought” for technocrats. I know it is difficult to predict time horizon but sensing not less than decade.Entire ecosystem should evolve before this takes off.

  2. Tim Coote says:

    Cloud isn’t about centralisation/scale, that’s an approach that works for the economics (capacity is a function of peak load, profit a function of utilisation => go for scale with decoupled demands). Edge is already very significant for IoT – and very attractive to use as it’s a sunk cost. But to peripatetic agents require consistent compute nodes, which ought to lead to a low-cost provider for edge platforms. Discuss.

  3. Ekrem Aksoy says:

    I definitely agree on that. The next frontier will be/should be Edge.

  4. Shobit Joshi says:

    Cloud and Edge Computing are fitting in an Hour Glass Model, interconnected by network at the waist.

  5. Daniel Fitzgerald says:

    Are organizations undertaking this approach now, or is this something for consideration as their businesses change? Thanks for the interesting piece, Tom.

  6. Ken Grelck says:

    Great thoughtful position. I am beginning to see the traction in North America, and this will be a big change of strategy. Real time requirements will define the winners and losers in the future.

  7. Jerry maldonado says:

    The edge has been here for a while it’s what we call the hybrid solution. And I agree it will continue to evolve it’s the telecom space that will have a major influence in this arena in the near future

  8. Suyash Sinha says:

    Today’s public cloud architecture requires large-scale for efficacy. It’s hard to shrink that level of efficiency into a small enough footprint to deploy across small, and even micro, datacenters across the Internet. For instance, in IoT applications people and things that generate and consume the data are often located hundred or thousands of miles away from the public cloud datacenters. I wrote a blog post about the issues with centralized cloud not too long ago here: https://goo.gl/XePywd

  9. The title sounds good but from a technology point of view, the things are not so dramatic. It is a normal decentralisation process moving the Cloud essential benefits to the sources. But some of the key features of the Cloud models are scalability and elasticity. The decentralisation process is a natural step in the evolution trend spiral, the evolution from centralised Cloud (incipient architectures) to distributed Cloud (Cloud 2.0).

  10. Tom Bittman says:

    Radu, the title is intentionally dramatic, partly because IT is hypnotized by cloud without realizing the journey to real-time and digital business does not end in large, centralized clouds. Respectfully, I think you may be underestimating the change. Cloud is all about centralization, economies of scale, massive scaling, efficient datacenters. Cloud has been great at making the back office more agile. The benefits of cloud – self-service, automation, elasticity – are NOT the same as what is needed at the edge (which will be more about rapid provisioning, rapid change, caching, customized/specific edge requirements, sometimes disconnected – and microdatacenters). Not sure I see decentralization of cloud as anything natural – it’s like saying decentralization of servers from mainframes to Intel-based servers was natural. It was traumatic. Cloud providers are trying to reach down to the edge, mainly through regional CDNs – but I don’t believe the winners and losers at the edge (and not just a handful of CDNs) are at all pre-determined. More to the point, for enterprises, their journey to digital business is not as straightforward as building cloud-native apps and pushing them to a massive cloud provider. Instead, they will need to expand their thinking to include local processing at the edge as a part of their overall topology. And in the end, that “front office” of agile people and things interacting might handle more processing than today’s cloud. We predict 100M consumers shopping with augmented reality by 2020. That changes things.

  11. Naga Rameswamy says:

    good article..Strong argument in favor of Edge compute ! I view Edge as “Cloud” in a box, with remote management. If systems are architected with that in mind, we’ll better handle the disruptive change. Also edge has been around quite some time..the new term is just re-branding..

  12. Impinna says:

    What about container’s solutions to enable/facilitate the migration to the edge more quickly and efficiently ?

  13. Daili says:

    They compensate each other from what I understand. It is like Federal power vs state power: Federal oversees the whole country and makes decisions to optimize the system as a whole and state has its power to make rapid, robust and customized decisions to benefit the local development.

  14. Rick says:

    As an IT auditor, this will require some interesting new controls and methods to test them. We seem to have enough problems managing the cloud, edge computing will present a whole new set of control challenges. Just a thought.

  15. Ron says:

    Storage, space, access and speed all leads to big bucks from the consumer and it seems never to be enough on both ends. Our next storage bins are going to be filled with video 360 and AI along with your family photos. There are companies who seem to be on their way like Nutanix and some others. I only bring this up because competition holds the answer. Time is inovation.

  16. Jincy Joy says:

    A good perspective regarding the dawn of edge computing. But what I strongly feel is that the utilization of cloud computing won’t be slowing down in the coming years. As both cloud and edge possess differentiated and significant benefits, a combined usage of both the technologies would be a smart choice. Being able to decide which computing tasks should take place on the cloud or the edge, rather than just focusing on one is a better for business efficiency.

  17. Adam K says:

    I managed a project to implement a Global FX Online Trading Platform for one of the Top Tier banks in North America in 2012. Low latency was key and we went through a lot of PoCs and testing to get to the speed we needed, we de-centralizing our data into North America, Europe, South East Asia and Far East Asia regions with an integrated global network

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  22. […] localized hosting (either for reasons of cost efficiency, or in support of IoT initiatives such as edge computing), organizations expect to apply the same operating style with their private infrastructure as in […]



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