Server Computing and the Network Edge

By Carl Weinschenk Edge computing involves pushing data and computing power away from a centralized point to the logical extremes of a network. Find out why this new topology is growing in popularity and what changes may be in store for some servers.

One could easily make the argument that no element of the network will be more impacted by potent edge computing topologies than servers. The pace and nature of these changes are beginning to crystallize.

Edge computing, as the name implies, involves pushing data and computing power away from a centralized point to the logical extremes of a network. A number of approaches making headlines today -- mesh computing, peer-to-peer computing, autonomic (self-healing) computing, and grid computing -- are part and parcel of the edge computing concept.

This has long been a goal of network designers, and it is happening. "We dreamed about this sophistication at the edge for years, and now it's being deployed," Tim O'Neill, a director of sales and marketing for AppDancer Networks, a company that makes network analysis tools, told ServerWatch. "We're seeing a lot more push, a lot more demand for specialization at the edge."

The advantages of edge computing are undeniable. Running applications at the edge cuts down on the amount of data that must be trafficked and the distance that what is sent must go. Both of these reduce transmission costs, shrink latency and, therefore, improve quality of service (QOS). By eliminating or de-emphasizing the core, edge computing limits or removes a major point of failure and a potential bottleneck. Security is inherently better as encrypted data moves further into the network. Since data coming toward the enterprise passes firewalls sooner, viruses and hackers can be caught earlier. Finally, the capability to "virtualize" -- i.e., logically group CPU capabilities on an as-needed, real-time basis -- extends scalability.

Edge computing comes in many shapes and flavors, and the view on the edge differs depending the customer. Sun Microsystems, for example divides its edge computing efforts into three categories: the data center edge, the customer edge, and the network edge. The following table illustrates what Sun believes are the key elements and focus of the three categories.

Sun's Edge of Reality

The Network Edge
The Customer Edge
The Data Center Edge
Focus Network infrastructure Access to internal and external customers and users Secure and reliable interface to the data center
Key Elements CDNs, DNS services, global load balancing, encryption, QOS, and SLA enforcement Intranet serving gear, application staging services, local caching, network management, access points, and firewall/VPN Web serving, e-mail services, network management, and intrusion detection

Source: Sun Microsystems

This article was originally published on Dec 4, 2002
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