Long ago, in March of 2005, this column took on a popular term in tech-talk time: “the edge.” Which one? Where is it?
And here we are, almost a decade later, still talking edges — but something changed. The edge picked up some serious semantic bling, especially in the Prefix Department.
It’s not just “the edge” anymore. It’s “the rich edge.” “The intelligent edge.” As a word that routinely crisscrosses between everyday talk and shop talk, the “edge” can befuddle. There’s the edge of the counter, and then there’s the edge of the network.
Back then, we polled engineers: Where’s the edge? Responses: “It’s where RF goes to IP, or visa versa.” “After the headend, before the eyeballs.” “At the output of the set-top box.” (Still my personal favorite: “It’s where the bits fall off .”)
Our conclusion, back then, was that “the edge” is in the eye of the beholder, because different work disciplines see edges differently. And now, those edges are rich and smart. What happened?
First of all, this is “rich” as in “having or supplying a large amount of something that is wanted” more so than “sacks full of cash.” In a connectivity sense, edges are places where stuff gets handed off : Backbone traffic to regional fiber rings; fiber rings to nodes; nodes to homes and the connected stuff within them.
The “large amount of something” is where the intelligence comes in. It’s the addition of compute and storage resources — those building blocks of the “cloud.”
The quest for rich, intelligent edges is the reason why traditional cable headends are becoming headend data centers, with racks and racks of servers adjoining the traditional functions of signal demodulation, encryption, processing, remodulation and combining.
It’s most evident right now in video services. Remember when VOD began? Storage was distributed on a market-by-market basis. Titles were “pitched” (via satellite) to hundreds (thousands?) of recipient “catchers.”
Then “CDNs” (content-delivery networks) happened, with big “origin” servers in the middle and video zipping to markets over terrestrial fiber.
“Rich edges” are morphing VOD yet again: Small, nimble storage, buttressing the big servers in the middle and designed to both anticipate and locate the most popular content closest to viewers.
VOD is but an early example of a “rich edge” transformation. It’s what happens when “connectivity” (broadband) gets gussied up with the building blocks of cloud, so that our “connected” things work better — faster and more intuitively.
Nonetheless, our advice remains the same, when it comes to the edge: Always ask. Asking “which edge?” and, now, “what’s rich about it?” does two things. It shows the speaker’s knowledge precincts, and it spares you from envisioning a different edge than the one being discussed.