What Are Edge Data Centers, and Why Is No One Adopting Them?

Edge data centers seem like a great idea. Cutting edge, relatively inexpensive, and solving an intractable problem. But why haven’t IT departments made more use of them?

What’s an Edge Data Center?

The whole concept was set up to battle latency — one of the toughest problems to crack when it comes to servicing high-demand applications.

The idea was that, as a user in Iowa, it was ridiculous to “pipe in” your data from Chicago or D.C. where it was stored. The lag time involved in sending information all that distance was increasingly unacceptable to users. Since cloud-based applications are becoming the new standard, this was considered one of those problems that HAD to be solved in order for cloud adoption to be considered a mature, trustable technology.

The answer was “edge” data centers.

Edge refers, somewhat romantically, to “the edge of the Internet.” Since the information, architecture, and applications that make up the Internet exist almost completely in vast networks of data centers these days, it can be said that the data centers themselves “are” the Internet. And so, to access the Internet, your signal has to travel to a data center, and the information has to travel back to you.

Because data centers are heavily clustered, usually near large metro areas, businesses with intensive data requirement typically locate themselves as near to the edge of the Internet as they can in order to reduce latency as much as possible.

But now that everyone relies so heavily on data centers to run their applications, latency is still an issue, but it’s no longer being seen as something that the company should relocate itself for. It’s being seen as a service that the data center industry can provide.

And that’s why these edge data centers seemed like such a great idea — build a “micro data center” (so called because of its smaller footprint than conventional data centers) near metro areas not so well served — Minneapolis-St. Paul, for instance. Companies there will be happy to purchase even a small sliver of that footprint to house a few colocation servers and all will be well.

Last year, edge data centers made the news with their rapid expansions, but this year? Bupkis. A new survey from Green House Data suggests the urgency was overstated.

54% Say No Plans to Add Edge Data Center

In a survey of 500 IT professionals, 40% of which were executive level, 54% had no plans to add an edge data center to their infrastructure.

Almost a third said, “Yes, but not sooner than 12 months from now.”

Apparently this pain point was somewhat overstated. Interest is there, but it’s mild interest. Certainly it doesn’t seem high on the priority list. And it seems likely that most, if not all companies that had a compelling need for an edge data center already use one — in fact, 18% of respondents said that they already had one in place. That’s not no one, as the report seems to imply, but it’s far from record adoption.

So edge data centers seem to be sort of like a car. No one needs to sell you on the idea of a car.You know exactly what they’re good for. And if you need one, chances are, you already own one. But I suppose that’s much less fun to write about than than extending the “edge of the Internet.”



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