The Cloud – Edge Paradox.

It’s quite the paradox to me. You have the whole world, not just the tech world abuzz with the term cloud. Except for the cloud service providers, every business seems to be poised to move into a cloud infrastructure at some point. Unless AWS is going to host Azure or vice versa somewhere down the road. Okay, bad joke. Nothing paradoxical there too, but that’s only until you swipe to see the other buzz about how 5G is going to kill latency and enhance user experience for applications ranging from online gaming to industrial robots to everyone’s favourite ; self-driving vehicles.

Without the hype around low latency, 5G is just 4G with more bandwidth, if you ask me. And how does 5G achieve this “edge” over 4G exactly? That’s where edge computing is ushered in, in all it’s glory. You basically bring your application servers closer to the network edge, literally a hop away from your radio nodes. For perspective, consider the predicament of the friendly neighbourhood online gamer, okay they’re not the friendliest lot, I give you that. Still, for 5G to enhance their FIFA 2021 agile dribbling skils the gameplay servers need to be hooked to their provider edge network and their teammates have to be on the same network preferably on the same provider edge device for a cumulative gameplay experience enhancement. They might as well move in together. This is a broad stroke of an example, for the sake of brevity and though I might be missing the trees for the forest entirely, this is the paradox that presents itself to the network guy that’s me.

Mobile edge computing is basically about distribution of applications servers but you need to distribute your core services as a provider too. It defeats the whole purpose if a user packet has to travel all the way to the core and then head back to the distributed service at the edge of the network. So unless you’re in the business of selling old wine in new bottles and actually intend to walk the talk, you end up investing in a lot of distributed tech for 5G latency apart from the 5G infrastructure. Your edge network port density has to live up to the call for every other cache server out there and you need to collaborate with every game provider, every IoT service provider, every self driving AI provider out there to host their services on your edge network. And your user internet traffic still has to traverse the core network. Meanwhile your cloud is getting lonely up there in your data centers. Maybe you could bring those cloud servers to the edge too. Okay, that’s all far down the rabbit hole I’m gong to go for now.

Now I realise that I’ve said what I said at the risk of sounding myopic and ill-informed but these are some honest apprehensions I’ve had for a while as a network guy. I wouldn’t think twice if I was a product guy, maybe. I would sell cloud today and MEC tomorrow with the same passion to the provider I guess. Yes, you could absolutely argue that cloud and MEC caters to entirely different segments of the same business but the network is where both converge at the end of the day. From a network perspective these are two contradictory design philosophies, so to speak and both are here to stay too. The provider here is forced to adopt both in keeping with the industry narrative driven by technology vendors to stay relevant, ahead of the competition . In the mid 2000s, you almost lost count of the number of telecom operators in India, compare that today’s scenario where the entry of a disruptor in fact resulted in the merger of two leading players and they’re yet to catch up with the game where the provider is not just selling bandwidth and talk time anymore. The jungle has literally turned into an ecosystem and the fittest and the fattest survives. A giant like Jio cushioned by petro cash can afford that, others could just ask the cloud architect, the network architect, the radio planner and the business head to sit down at the table and take a hard long look.


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