Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is a network architecture that brings real-time, high-bandwidth, low-latency access to radio network information, allowing operators to open their networks to a new ecosystem and value chain.
MEC permits multiple types of access at the edge. The benefits of this technology reach beyond mobile and into Wi-Fi and fixed access technologies. It involves placing compute and storage resources closer to the consumer or enterprise end user and is expected to be a major enabler for 5G capabilities, improving content delivery and application user experience.
The path between the end user’s device and where the data is hosted is often long and imperfect. MEC cuts out the network path, lowering latency, increasing reliability and improving overall network efficiency.
While MEC has been in the works for the past several years and will continue to be part of 5G preparation and deployment, industry observers have already identified five challenges:
- Real estate. The closer to the user edge computing gets, the more complicated the real estate issue gets. Consumer mobile applications, smart cities and autonomous vehicles will need larger geographic availability to edge data. Outfitting a few dozen regional data centers or a couple hundred central offices is one thing. Deploying computing hardware at thousands of individual tower sites, which significantly pushes up the cost and complexity of deployment, is another!
- Power. Building out data centers with dual-power feeds helps provide resiliency in case one feed goes down. However, depending on the size of the edge compute installation and its location, it may not be possible to get sufficient dual-power feeds to match up with existing real estate options for MEC installations.
- Physical environment. Pushing compute resources to central offices or customer premises may mean either a need to retrofit those environments or operating in less-than-ideal spaces. Micro-data centers with small footprints, particularly those that might be placed at the cell tower site itself, will have to work in much more challenging physical conditions.
- Fiber and network co-location. Edge computing facilities will need access to fiber networks and most likely, to peering point with other networks. So backhaul (sending network data over an out-of-the-way route in order to get the data there sooner or because it costs less) is an important part of the equation – although the use of MEC can drastically reduce the amount of backhaul needed at a site. The point, after all, is to support 5G latency by doing necessary processing locally. Getting the right capacity and the necessary peering relationships at a given edge compute location could end up being much more complicated than at the relatively few numbers of large data center hubs.
- Operations. The smaller edge data centers get, the more hands-off they will need to be. Remote management, monitoring and security will be critical to bringing down deployment costs. Arun Shenoy, data center colocation and in-command services leader at ServerFarm, a data center company based in El Segundo, California, says, “It’s a young industry that hasn’t really matured in terms of operational best practices and knowledge. So being able to operate data centers still needs some degree of touch by humans, and that makes these edge environments – which are potentially quite small but many in number – potentially very expensive to operate.”
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Hill, Kelly. (25 Sept 2018). Five challenges for multi-access edge computing. RCR Wireless News.
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