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The 5G-enabled move to the edge is enabling the next chapter of cloud computing.

Among all the changes that the pandemic wrought on our customers, some stood out to us more than any others: businesses recognized that their future is digital, that their customers’ user journeys are changing, and that a successful digital transformation will provide the foundations for future business success. Whether it was migrating legacy applications to the cloud, augmenting data with machine learning, automating business processes and their networks, or retooling their workforce with future-ready skills and capabilities, the pandemic put many long-standing IT projects on the front-burner—and businesses got a lot done.

If that describes your business, congratulations. Then, once you’re done giving yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, you may start to ask yourself, what’s next for your business? What kinds of new experiences do your customers expect you to deliver?

These days, new customer experiences tend to be data-driven, real-time, interactive, and they tend to include increasingly rich media (AR/VR, etc.). To offer these new capabilities, the networks between users and these experiences (i.e., applications) need to be more capable than they are today. Further, the applications need to be decentralized out to the “edge” to better accommodate this large volume of data.

In other words, now that organizations have successfully migrated many of their apps to the cloud, we believe they will start chopping up some of their workloads and start moving parts of them out of the big cloud data centers where they currently run, and back closer to their users. Making this all possible will be a new generation of  wireless connectivity—e.g., 5G, Wifi6—that have the potential to provide higher bandwidth, lower latency, and more capacity. 

But make no mistake: the cloud remains central to this edge computing story. At Google Cloud, we’ve worked with large companies across any number of vertical industries and showed them how the cloud can help them differentiate within their industries, generate top-line revenue, and drive operating costs out of their business. And that won’t change. If anything, the upcoming 5G-enabled move to the edge is nothing more than the next chapter in the evolution of cloud computing, and integrally tied to the digital transformation journey. 

Related: See how TELUS partnered with Google Cloud to connect datasets mapping customer experiences across multiple touch points.

The Rise of Edge Computing

So what is the edge, anyway? The edge is an extension of the cloud itself, offering application developers a platform in closer proximity to the user. The platform can be used to leverage a person’s smartphone, a self-driving automobile, a point-of-sale terminal in a grocery store, an accident detection system at the side of the road, a defect detection system on a factory floor, or infrastructure deployed in localized and regional datacenters–you get the idea.

Whatever the use case, the edge itself is not a new concept. It is a paradigm that has existed in internet architectures, public cloud, and networking under many different names, and has been a core tenet of the way the internet has scaled to achieve the consumer and enterprise experiences that we depend on every day.

In the early days of the internet, reliance on the edge was a tacit admission that centralized data centers could not provide the performance that an application required, and so content and applications were decentralized. Any time that the “law of large numbers” applies—where the amount of anything (content, sites, devices, requests, etc.) is larger than the ability of centralized facilities to handle those requests—the edge steps in to decentralize parts of the user experience. Take, for instance, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which cache web content around the globe so users can load it quickly, or the domain name service (DNS), which translates between a web site’s URL and its IP address for the global internet. When applications are decentralized, it’s usually because decentralization is the most logical means of scaling. 

So where does 5G come in? Consider the following recent trends:

  1. Consumer demand for higher-quality interactive video and AR/VR for both enterprise applications and gaming requires higher bandwidth and lower latency than is currently available
  2. There are an increasing number of use-cases at vehicular speed, demanding faster mobility
  3. More IoT “things” connecting to applications requires significantly greater scale and massively improved efficiencies
  4. The speed to decisions for mission-critical traffic, such as first responders, requires both improved performance and improved reliability

In short, the promise of 5G is that it will provide consumers and enterprise organizations with the connectivity foundation that they need for their future next-level experiences.

Read this next: See how Google Cloud and Ericsson are partnering to deliver 5G and edge cloud solutions for CSPs and enterprise.

Cloud providers have a role to play here–a big one. They need to do their part and help develop new infrastructure that allows for more flexible hybrid cloud architectures and any-to-any networking. And, in addition to their massively-scaled centralized data centers, cloud providers need to work out of regional, distributed, and even on-premises data centers, for users to run applications on.

If 5G-enabled edge computing is going to happen, cloud providers also need to adapt the cloud architectures they’ve helped develop for this new decentralized model.

But wait, there’s more! If 5G-enabled edge computing is going to happen, cloud providers also need to adapt the cloud architectures they’ve helped develop for this new decentralized model. For example, developers need to be able to localize applications to reduce service latency; alleviate variance/jitter; ensure the resilience/survivability of operations in the event of an outage; leverage data efficiently (e.g., perform machine learning at the edge, data transformations, aggregations, or time-series analyses); or simply avoid costs associated with data transmission. In short, the need to develop new experiences that operate in edge environments requires cloud providers to create an open, efficient, and consistent environment enabling the cloud developer community to thrive. 

Related content: Refer to our Next ‘21 playlist to learn how CSPs can benefit from modernizing their IT stack, deploy cloud based 5G networks, and monetize the Edge. 

It’s still early days, though. Early edge computing engagements have resulted in successful proofs of concepts (PoCs), but at nowhere near the level of growth predicted by industry analysts. However, as entire industries continue to transform, the edge use cases that develop will become an integral component of their digital transformation, rather than just point solutions, as they tend to be today. In the meantime: 1) Look for opportunities to leverage edge computing in your business’s next round of transformational applications. And 2) Stay tuned. Because we believe that 5G and the edge will be as integral to your transformation as the public cloud is today.

Save the date for our How CSPs Can Innovate at the Edge webinar. Discover enterprise edge computing use cases by industry and learn why enterprises are investing in edge computing. Register here.

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