Is the Edge Cloud buzz real or rather a lot of hype? Is an Edge Cloud required to build a 5G Campus solution? Many questions surround the topic of Edge Cloud and essentially there is no quick answer. Making it more complex is the unique situation here in Switzerland in comparison to other nations that should be considered.
Text: Egon Steinkasserer,
Although everyone talks about Edge and Edge Cloud today there is no uniform definition that effectively describes what is specifically encapsulated by the term. Some companies base their definition on the user experience and describe Edge Cloud as a solution that provides ultra-responsive service experiences. Others use distance as the criterium and consider everything beyond 500–1500km to the next data center fostering the need for Edge Cloud deployments. To make it even more complex, Edge Cloud is often confused with Edge Computing. In this article we distinguish between both terms. We describe Edge Computing as decentralized processing and storage capabilities that are located in an end-user device or equipment for industrial automation (client side). The number of devices at the edge of the network, and as well as their compute and storage capabilities, are continuing to grow exponentially. In fact, it is very likely that very soon more than half of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or Cloud. With the term Edge Cloud, we refer to Cloud-based (server side) IaaS, PaaS or SaaS that are moved to the edge of the network as far as necessary to fulfill customer and application needs.
The global hype around Edge Cloud is fueled by a large variety of global market participants, e.g. hyperscalers, telco equipment manufacturers and multi-national mobile network operators. We evaluated the most often claimed Edge Cloud benefits in the context of the specific situation within Switzerland. In the following paragraphs we will outline how low latency, high bandwidth, data privacy, security, compliance, and highest availability requirements for the vast majority of the known use cases are covered by Swisscom networks already. Thereby we will challenge the necessity for Swisscom business customers on their need to invest and deploy an Edge Cloud on their premises in Switzerland anytime in the near future.
«The availability of major global public Cloud vendors with fully-fledged Cloud-Regions in Switzerland in combination with the quality and performance of the Swisscom networks present a unique opportunity.»
Low Latency is probably the most frequently mentioned advantage of Edge Clouds. Generally speaking, it is considered vital to support applications such as AR/VR, game-streaming, some industrial IoT scenarios or to provide improved autonomous driving capabilities amongst others. The (network) latency is the time that it takes to transfer a given piece of information from a transmitter to a receiver. It’s lower bound is determined by the speed of light. Throughout this article we will use this definition for latency, which should not be confused with round-trip time (RTT:= network latency from client to server + processing time on the server + network latency server back to client).
With a surface area of 41’285 km² (roughly 350km x 220km) Switzerland is rather small compared to other countries such as Sweden (450’295 km²), France (643’801 km²), USA (9’834’000 km²), Canada (9’985’000 km²), China (9’597’000 km²), Russia (17’100’000 km²) along with many others. Due to the locations of our data centers, the typical distance to a customer premise is quite short and hence the latency. This is confirmed by our own internal measurements as well as numerous external benchmarks. The median of the latency of our nationwide wireline network is below 5ms. In fact, 32% of our wireline connections are end-to-end fiber based (FTTH) and here we provide a latency below 3ms nationwide and around 1ms in major cities. In our mobile network (covering 99% of the Swiss population), the median of the latency is below 8ms. All numbers depicted are based on representative 3rd party measurements that were executed during 2020. Over the next years these numbers will further improve as we continue to roll out more 5G+ and more end-to-end fiber (FTTH). To provide a comparison, some US carriers intend to reduce latency for global public Cloud access in their mobile networks to below 10ms from around 80–100ms today with their announced Edge Cloud deployments,. It is only with these measures that those networks in selected metro-regions are able to obtain a similar performance level, one that has already been achieved by the Swisscom mobile network several years ago.
Latency requirements in milliseconds for various Use Cases.
For use cases that require a predictable low latency with strict guarantees for the upper bounds we provide
Mobile Private Network (MPN) solutions that are deployed at the customer site. Obviously, latency in a MPN can be lower in comparison to the mobile macro network.
The relatively new term operational technology (OT) stands for hardware and software that detects or causes a change, through the direct monitoring or control of industrial equipment. Typically industrial assets, processes and events are in the focus of OT. A Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), or PLC, is a ruggedized computer used for industrial automation. Some smart manufacturing plants have latency requirements for OT and PLC in the order of microseconds (= 1/1000 milliseconds). These are examples of scenarios where an Edge Cloud deployment on a company’s campus may be inevitable.
Limited Bandwidth is another frequently mentioned impediment that can be mitigated with the deployment of an Edge Cloud nearby. In countries or regions with mediocre or bad network infrastructure, it is not uncommon that the link between a central Cloud and the end-user causes a substantial bottleneck. In the Swisscom network this is not at all the case. As of 2020, for 82% of all Swiss households/companies, we provide wireline connectivity with at least 80Mbps, for 30-40% up to 500Mbps and for 32% up to 10Gbps. We provide mobile connectivity with 4G+ (up to 300Mbps) for 99% of the Swiss population, 5G (up to 1Gbps) for 96% and 5G+ (up to 2Gbps) in more than 500 municipalities. The nationwide average download speed in our mobile network as of 2020 was 80Mbps and 22Mbps for uploads, as measured by Ookla. The most recent (February 2021) internal measurements show that driven by the adoption of 5G handsets the average speed for downloads now is 230Mbps and 60Mpbs for uploads. The diagram below shows our plans on how bandwidth will increase even further soon.
Swisscom's plans for Bandwidth evolution.
Cloud adoption depends on high bandwidth and reliable throughput for both uploads and downloads. While Swisscom is providing best in-class upload speeds our ambition is to close the gap between download and upload speeds even further. For wireline connectivity speed symmetry is our goal and with end-to-end fiber we are getting there. Our current 5G (TDD) cellular connectivity provides a downlink-uplink-ratio of 4:1.
Our transport network capacity at no point in time was ever close to a bottleneck. Our current access network is moderately over-provisioned when compared to transport network capacity. With the upcoming upgrades of our transport networks this will soon change to virtually unlimited bandwidth in the transport.
Most of the data that is produced on the edge (e.g., IoT signals created every few milliseconds) doesn’t have a lot of value. But often even simple transformations or aggregations can change this and further compact the data by several orders of magnitudes. There are many cases where the local processing of data is much more sustainable than pushing huge amounts of raw data into the Cloud. In some use cases the data volume generated per second can be ginormous (e.g. Tbps). Once Edge Computing isn’t covering those scenarios anymore, Edge Cloud deployments on a company’s campus might be an economically feasible alternative.
Data privacy, security and compliance are benefits of an Edge Cloud installed on premise. Using global public clouds data might be stored and processed in foreign countries with different legal obligations and data governance laws. Additionally, companies need to trust the global public cloud vendors to securely treat their data and to prohibit access from outside the company. Providing state-of-the-art security and data protection is a key mandate of Swisscom including our product and service portfolio. Many of the Swiss cantonal banks have fully outsourced their mission critical IT systems including core banking to Swisscom. They have trusted Swisscom to provide these services via our data centers for several decades. Swisscom fulfills all relevant security and data privacy standards for business-critical systems and is ISO certified (27000, 27001 and others). Furthermore, Swisscom B2B customers are able to fulfill the strict obligations necessary for Swiss banks including FINMA (Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority) and SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). Even for the most critical applications, customers in a variety of industries have entrusted Swisscom to process their data while meeting the highest compliance and security levels for years. For these reasons, customers are able to leverage the capabilities of the Swisscom Cloud and process their data in our data centers in Switzerland. Swisscom also provides the expertise necessary to deploy and operate customer workloads in global public Clouds like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). In the event a Swisscom customer is faced with a situation that dictates a requirement for an Edge Cloud, the expertise necessary is readily available.
Finally, an often-so-called head-less Edge Cloud is claimed to provide a higher availability than a centralized Cloud. In case of a network outage either due to a technical problem or damaged access link (e.g. by construction work) the Edge Cloud can still be accessed within a corporate LAN, potentially offering also local breakout for voice calls. At Swisscom, we anticipated the need for highly available access links and introduced a product called Dualnet over 10 years ago. With Dualnet we can offer the highest available, redundant wireline access link and guarantee an availability of 100%. Last year much more affordable variants of this value proposition were introduced as part of our SD-WAN-based Enterprise Connect offering. Hereby we leverage Application-based routing, combine a high- and a low-end access and support active/active deployments.
In our view, this approach can be even superior to an Edge Cloud to fulfill the customer needs on maximum availability. For instance, imagine a hospital where people within the hospital can call each other, but no patient from outside can call the hospital anymore. A hospital cannot afford such a risk.
Swisscom Dualnet provides fully redundant access and transport for business customers.
Still there exist scenarios Dualnet cannot address. For example, the ever-increasing on-board compute and storage requirements for transport vessels such as airplanes, ships and trains are well served by an Edge Cloud. Essentially, if the Edge Cloud needs to be mobile, then there is no other possible way than to deploy it on the “mobile premise”.
While for most global mobile network operators, cellular connectivity is a best effort service, Swisscom offers various SLAs for our mobile inhouse solutions and Mobile Private Networks. Depending on the specific service level chosen by the customer those can include guarantees for QoS, bandwidth, latency, and availability for 4G and 5G implementations. The backhauling for Mobile Private Networks (MPN) provided by Swisscom is always done via fiber. Given the capacity of our transport network, a local breakout is not a technical prerequisite. Upon the request of a customer, we can provide an optional local breakout for the data plane of a MPN deployed at a customer’s campus.
Edge Cloud deployments provide without any doubt benefits in countries with a large geographical footprint and/or mediocre to bad networks. For sure there are other criteria that would make an Edge Cloud deployment beneficial. Response-time requirements (including latency of applications and systems, determinism), local bandwidth availability and cost, need for semi-autonomy (versus cost of highly available connectivity), and intimacy of data may push the choice towards an Edge Cloud deployment. Surprisingly, even the raw cost of computing can have such an impact. However, the situation in Switzerland is unique in the world: Swisscom Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and very soon Amazon Web Services (AWS) provide fully-fledged Cloud-Regions in our relatively small nation and Swisscom connects customers to those with our best networks. Most of the latest and greatest applications and ultra-responsive services depending on lowest latency, highest availability, best-in-class security, and data privacy hence can be deployed already today. As we have shown above in most cases there is neither an inherent need nor an obvious benefit of an Edge Cloud deployment in Switzerland on a Swisscom customers premises. Sustainable and robust ICT architectures are simple and minimalistic, therefore avoiding adding an Edge Cloud when no immanent necessity exists is a very reasonable best practice. We have shown very strong arguments for the balance to lean more toward centralized computing in Switzerland. All use-cases shown in Figure 1 and many more Swisscom business customers can already build and deploy as of today, without requiring them to invest in Edge Cloud deployments.
We encourage Swisscom business customers to invest in appropriate SLAs for their wireline connectivity as well as mobile inhouse solutions and Mobile Private Networks for the best wireless experience on campus, on the job-floor and on the go. But for now, we advise against hasty investments in Edge Cloud products in Switzerland. Alternatively deploying a 5G campus solution for most Swisscom business customers is easier compared to what they might have expected based on experiences abroad. From a global as well as from a Swisscom customer perspective, all Clouds hosted in Switzerland are Edge Clouds, and this is something that customers can already benefit from today.
In Technology Insights, the Swisscom B2B CTO Office regularly reports and comments on current issues from the world of technology and innovation, demonstrates their importance for Swisscom customers and highlights relevant offers.
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