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State of the Edge 2021: Open for Business and Poised for Massive Growth

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This week, the Linux Foundation released its annual State of the Edge report, with a market size forecast inching toward the trillion-dollar mark, with the global edge computing infrastructure industry valued at up to $800 billion by 2028.

Pointing to the global pandemic as a wake-up call to legacy data centers, the third-party authors predicted that expertise in legacy data centers could become obsolete given the rise of new tools enabled by edge computing for remote monitoring, provisioning, repair, and management.

"State of the Edge is shaping the future of all facets of just edge computing and the ecosystem that surrounds it," said Arpit Joshipura, General Manager of Networking, IoT, and Edge. "The insights in the report reflect the entire LF Edge community and our mission to unify edge computing and support a more robust solution at the IoT, Enterprise, Cloud, and Telco edge. We look forward to sharing the ongoing work State of the Edge that amplifies innovations across the entire landscape."

Explaining that open-source hardware and software projects are driving innovation at the edge by accelerating the adoption and deployment of applications for cloud-native, containerized, and distributed applications, the report systematically laid out the LF Edge taxonomy, which
"offers terminology standardization with a balanced view of the edge landscape" and is "based on inherent technical and logistical tradeoffs spanning the edge to cloud continuum is gaining widespread industry adoption."

Not surprisingly, many new use cases driven by 5G drove edge computing growth in 2020.

"Edge is the center of everything."
"In our individual lock-down environments, each of us is an edge node of the Internet, and all our computing is, mostly, edge computing," said Wenjing Chu, senior director of Open Source and Research at Futurewei Technologies, Inc. and LF Edge Governing Board member. "The edge is the center of everything."

State of the Edge, a project under the LF Edge umbrella organization that established an open, interoperable framework for edge independent of hardware, silicon, cloud, or operating system, highlighted the new types of critical infrastructure which emerged to service next-level requirements. Their thesis is that open source collaboration as the only way to efficiently scale edge Infrastructure.

Tolaga Research, which led the market forecasting research for this report, predicts that between 2019 and 2028, cumulative capital expenditures of up to $800 billion USD will be spent on new and replacement IT server equipment and edge computing facilities. These expenditures will be relatively evenly split between equipment for the device and infrastructure edges.

"Our 2021 analysis shows demand for edge infrastructure accelerating in a post-COVID-19 world," said Matt Trifiro, co-chair of State of the Edge and CMO of edge infrastructure company Vapor IO. "We've been observing this trend unfold in real-time as companies re-prioritize their digital transformation efforts to account for a more distributed workforce and a heightened need for automation. The new digital norms created in response to the pandemic will be permanent. This will intensify the deployment of new technologies like wireless 5G and autonomous vehicles but will also impact nearly every sector of the economy, from industrial manufacturing to healthcare."

The pandemic is accelerating digital transformation and service adoption.
In 2020, driven by necessity as the "mother of invention," the report says manufacturing increased from 3.9 to 6.2 percent, as companies bolstered their supply chain and inventory management capabilities and capitalize on automation technologies and autonomous systems; healthcare, which increased from 6.8 to 8.6 percent, was buoyed by increased expectations for remote healthcare, digital data management and assisted living; and Smart cities increased from 5.0 to 6.1 percent in anticipation of increased expenditures in digital infrastructure in the areas such as surveillance, public safety, city services, and autonomous systems.

Open (Source) for business has never been more important given the diversity and complexity at the edge.
It is no surprise that LF Edge leaders saw a jump in interested during the start of the pandemic, which will thrive long after the world gets the pandemic under control with global vaccinations and social distancing awareness. "Open Source has always been the foundation of innovation, and this became more prevalent during the pandemic as individuals continued to turn to these communities for normalcy and collaboration," their announcement said.


LF Edge is an ecosystem that hosts nine projects, including State of the Edge, plus Akraino Edge Stack, Baetyl, EdgeX Foundry, Fledge, Home Edge, Open Horizon, Project EVE, and Secure Device Onboard.

For the report, researchers modeled the growth of edge infrastructure from the bottom up, starting with the sector-by-sector use cases likely to drive demand. The forecast considers 43 use cases spanning 11 verticals in calculating the growth, including those represented by smart grids, telecom, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, automotive, and mobile consumer services.

The vendor-neutral report was edited by Charlie Ashton, Senior Director of Business Development at Napatech, with contributions from Phil Marshall, Chief Research Officer at Tolaga Research; Phil Shih, Founder and Managing Director of Structure Research; Technology Journalists Mary Branscombe and Simon Bisson; and Fay Arjomandi, Founder and CEO of mimik.

Other highlights from the State of the Edge 2021 Report include:

  • Off-the-shelf services and applications are emerging that accelerate and de-risk the rapid deployment of edge in these segments. The variety of emerging use cases is, in turn, driving diversity in edge-focused processor platforms, which now include Arm-based solutions, SmartNICs with FPGA-based workload acceleration, and GPUs.
  • Edge facilities will also create new types of interconnection. Similar to how data centers became meeting points for networks, the micro data centers at wireless towers and cable headends that will power edge computing often sit at the crossroads of terrestrial connectivity paths. These locations will become centers of gravity for local interconnection and edge exchange, creating new and newly efficient paths for data.   
  • 5G, next-generation SD-WAN, and SASE have been standardized. They are well suited to address the multitude of edge computing use cases that are being adopted and are contemplated for the future. As digital services proliferate and drive demand for edge computing, the diversity of network performance requirements will continue to increase.

"The State of the Edge report is an important industry and community resource. This year's report features the analysis of diverse experts, mirroring the collaborative approach that we see thriving in the edge computing ecosystem," said Jacob Smith, co-chair of State of the Edge and Vice President of Bare Metal at Equinix. "The 2020 findings underscore the tremendous acceleration of digital transformation efforts in response to the pandemic, and the critical interplay of hardware, software, and networks for servicing use cases at the edge."

Download the report here.


Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Special Correspondent

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