What Is Multi-Access Edge Computing?
Data volume represents one of the biggest challenges for today’s enterprise. Moving to a cloud-centric model might make sense for some applications, but when you can process data closer to the source, you gain several significant advantages. Managing the amount of data sent to the cloud helps reduce both bandwidth and storage plus related costs.
The Internet of Things (IoT) represents one of the largest applications for a Multi-access Edge Computing architecture. In many IoT applications, it is unnecessary to send every sample of data collected by the sensors up to the cloud. Much of this data can be aggregated or filtered at the source to minimize the total amount of useful information. These reduced data sets can then be forwarded to the cloud for further processing.
What Is Multi-Access Edge Computing?
If we break down Multi-access Edge Computing into its parts, we have two basic components. Multi-access refers to the use of multiple access technologies to connect endpoints to processing nearby. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) defines Multi-access Edge Computing as “a system which provides an IT service environment and cloud-computing capabilities at the edge of an access network which contains one or more type of access technology, and in close proximity to its users.”
Edge computing is self-explanatory, although it can take on different forms. For some use cases, it might represent processing within a few feet of where the data is collected, such as a manufacturing floor. Other applications might use a corporate data center located in the same general area as the data source. In both cases, the end goal is to perform some amount of processing close to the source to reduce the amount of data sent to the cloud.
ETSI has multiple standards directly addressing the different components of Multi-access Edge Computing. Searching for the phrase Multi-access Edge Computing on their Standards page returns a long list of documents covering everything from Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to Zero-touch Network and Service Management. The publication entitled “Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC); Terminology” is a great starting point to help you with all the terms and abbreviations.
Document ETSI GS MEC 003 entitled “Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC); Framework and Reference Architecture” conceptually presents the pieces required to build a complete system. It includes everything you might need from both a system and network perspective. It is easy to see how implementing one of these systems can get quite complex. Taking advantage of published standards can help reduce the effort and guide the work to help ensure success.
Several key technologies play an important role foundationally in the design and implementation of a Multi-access Edge Computing system.
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)
NFV attempts to decouple specific functions, such as a firewall or intrusion detection, from a dedicated hardware platform so that the functions run virtually. Closely related to NFV is the concept of Software Defined Networking (SDN). SDN decouples the control plane and data plane to operate separately. Major vendors in both the NFV and SDN space include Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and VMware.
Higher capacity and bandwidth will become more readily available as more 5G network coverage rolls out. Most of the focus has been on large metropolitan areas with high numbers of users. What many consumers don’t realize is the enterprise functionality was designed into 5G from the beginning. Metaswitch Fusion Core offers a fully containerized 5G Core solution providing all the components required to connect IoT endpoints to 4G or 5G networks.
While the advent of virtualization spawned an avalanche of server consolidation in the data center, the adoption of containerized applications has seen a huge upswing in the implementation of device-independent software. Containers were meant to facilitate the ease of scaling out applications to meet demand. Open source tools like Kubernetes make it possible to architect solutions to handle large volumes of data and complex computations.
Local Cloud Platforms
Amazon and Microsoft have offerings to facilitate pushing your cloud functionality to where it’s needed most. Both companies embrace the concept of a hybrid cloud offering at the software and hardware level. Amazon Web Services’ hybrid cloud offerings cover everything from on-premises servers in their Outposts product to an entire family of network gateway products to move data. Microsoft offers similar products, including Azure Stack Edge, for pushing Azure functionality out to where the data lives.
Open-source alternatives abound to complement commercial solutions. Red Hat‘s OpenStack project has seen wide adoption within the telecommunications industry as well as a wide range of retailers. Red Hat OpenShift 4 is the most recent version of the container orchestration platform built on top of Red Hat Linux. It also utilizes Kubernetes and what Red Hat calls OpenShift Operators to automate the creation, configuration, and management of Kubernetes-native applications.
The good news for anyone looking to implement Multi-access Edge Computing comes in the form of options. With multiple vendors and open source options available, it’s just a matter of picking the best approach for your application. ETSI offers templates and reference architectures to help you with the design process. Now all you must do is pick a path and get started.