The location for data processing has changed significantly throughout the history of computing. During the mainframe era, data was processed centrally, but client/server architectures later decentralized computing. In recent years, cloud computing centralized many processing workloads, but digital transformation and the Internet of Things are poised to move computing to new places, such as the network edge.
“There’s a big transformation happening,” says Thomas Humphrey, segment director for edge computing at APC. “Technologies like IoT have started to require that some local computing and storage happen out in that distributed IT architecture.”
For example, some IoT systems require processing of data at remote locations rather than a centralized data center, such as at a retail store instead of a corporate headquarters.
To meet regulatory requirements and business needs, IoT solutions often need low latency, high bandwidth, robust security and superior reliability. To meet these demands, many organizations are deploying micro data centers: self-contained solutions that provide not only essential infrastructure, but also physical security, power and cooling and remote management capabilities.
“Digital transformation happens at the network edge, and edge computing will happen inside micro data centers,” says Bruce A. Taylor, executive vice president at Datacenter Dynamics. “This will probably be one of the fastest growing segments — if not the fastest growing segment — in data centers for the foreseeable future.”
What Is a Micro Data Center?
Delivering the IT capabilities needed for edge computing represents a significant challenge for many organizations, which need manageable and secure solutions that can be deployed easily, consistently and close to the source of computing. Vendors such as APC have begun to create comprehensive solutions that provide these necessary capabilities in a single, standardized package.
“From our perspective at APC, the micro data center was a response to what was happening in the market,” says Humphrey. “We were seeing that enterprises needed more robust solutions at the edge.”
Most micro data center solutions rely on hyperconverged infrastructure to integrate computing, networking and storage technologies within a compact footprint. A typical micro data center also incorporates physical infrastructure (including racks), fire suppression, power, cooling and remote management capabilities. In effect, the micro data center represents a sweet spot between traditional IT closets and larger modular data centers — giving organizations the ability to deploy professional, powerful IT resources practically anywhere.
Standardized Deployments Across the Country
Having robust IT resources at the network edge helps to improve reliability and reduce latency, both of which are becoming more and more important as analytics programs require that data from IoT deployments be processed in real time.
“There’s always been edge computing,” says Taylor. “What’s new is the need to process hundreds of thousands of data points for analytics at once.”
Standardization, redundant deployment and remote management are also attractive features, especially for large organizations that may need to deploy tens, hundreds or even thousands of micro data centers. “We spoke to customers who said, ‘I’ve got to roll out and install 3,500 of these around the country,’” says Humphrey. “And many of these companies don’t have IT staff at all of these sites.” To address this scenario, APC designed standardized, plug-and-play micro data centers that can be rolled out seamlessly. Additionally, remote management capabilities allow central IT departments to monitor and troubleshoot the edge infrastructure without costly and time-intensive site visits.
In part because micro data centers operate in far-flung environments, security is of paramount concern. The self-contained nature of micro data centers ensures that only authorized personnel will have access to infrastructure equipment, and security tools such as video surveillance provide organizations with forensic evidence in the event that someone attempts to infiltrate the infrastructure.
How Micro Data Centers Can Help in Retail, Healthcare
Micro data centers make business sense for any organization that needs secure IT infrastructure at the network edge. But the solution is particularly appealing to organizations in fields such as retail, healthcare and finance, where IT environments are widely distributed and processing speeds are often a priority.
In retail, for example, edge computing will become more important as stores find success with IoT technologies such as mobile beacons, interactive mirrors and real-time tools for customer experience, behavior monitoring and marketing.
“It will be leading-edge companies driving micro data center adoption, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be technology companies,” says Taylor. “A micro data center can power real-time analytics for inventory control and dynamic pricing in a supermarket.”
In healthcare, digital transformation is beginning to touch processes and systems ranging from medication carts to patient records, and data often needs to be available locally; for example, in case of a data center outage during surgery. In finance, the real-time transmission of data can have immediate and significant financial consequences. And in both of these fields, regulations governing data privacy make the monitoring and security features of micro data centers even more important.
Micro data centers also have enormous potential to power smart city initiatives and to give energy companies a cost-effective way of deploying resources in remote locations, among other use cases.
“The proliferation of edge computing will be greater than anything we’ve seen in the past,” Taylor says. “I almost can’t think of a field where this won’t matter.”
Learn more about how solutions and services from CDW and APC can help your organization overcome its data center challenges.