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Despite the tough economic conditions currently facing the UK and the wider global economies, there are still several positive trends in the world of IT infrastructure. The current upward trajectory in demand for edge computing – processing data closer to where organisations generate it – is one of them and is set to become an essential enabler of regional regeneration in the UK.
For regions where traditional industries have been in decline, edge computing presents a major national opportunity to level up. It will provide the essential core IT infrastructure to underpin significant advances such as smart cities, the growing use of advanced applications including video analytics, and the implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT). Analysts at ResearchandMarkets estimate the entire mobile edge computing market will be worth $2.2 billion by 2026, built on such use cases.
Edge infrastructure will grow to meet the requirements of regional innovators
Regeneration in today’s economy comes from digital innovation, exploiting the expanding volumes of data. Businesses that are ambitious, outward-looking and growth-driven, will only set up or relocate in the regions if they have access to the IT infrastructure that enables them to use the best SaaS applications, analytics and AI capabilities that depend on data.
Real-world solutions such AI-based business and accounting applications or process optimisation technology using this data all require the right configuration of connectivity and processing power. They need to connect with the major cloud providers and all the advanced applications they host. But they also need to process data locally to achieve fast speeds on which applications depend, and minimise the costs of transmitting large amounts of data into the cloud. This is true for a technology such as video analytics which enables remote, AI-powered security and safety surveillance, transport system optimisation and many smart manufacturing processes.
To access these capabilities, regional businesses need high-bandwidth, high-capacity connectivity and the ability to process critical data at very low latency. This is edge computing and is only deliverable through regional data centres that are part of a national network with superfast fibre connectivity and high levels of resilience.
It is why we are set to see regional growth of edge computing and the purpose-built infrastructure of data centres and networks to support it. As the volume of data grows exponentially, colocation in such data centres will experience a resurgence as more companies see it as their most cost-effective and efficient route into the huge opportunities of digital, data-driven applications. They will see this is how to deliver new ways of running or creating businesses and business value.
The advances edge computing enables – improvements in monitoring real-time telemetry from IoT devices to AI-driven video analytical solutions – will help overcome skills shortages and usher in radically improved processes in a wide range of businesses. SaaS companies will be able to deliver applications from data centres that are closer to their customers than the major cloud providers’ hubs.
The video streaming market is another area of growth bringing advanced services to many more people. This market could grow by more than 20 per cent between now and 2030, thanks to the ability of edge infrastructure to support data-intensive content delivery and high levels of personalisation through AI. Video-on-demand, training and education, live industrial video surveillance and security analytics are all set to boost streaming – provided the necessary edge infrastructure is available. Autonomous vehicles may yet be some way off, but smart city and SaaS technologies are available now and ready to help with regional regeneration.
Edge ecosystem partners help overcome tech skills shortages
Moves to regenerate the regions have long been under discussion, but received a boost with the UK government’s Spring Budget, which unveiled plans for new ‘Canary Wharf’-style investment zones. Many regions have already benefited from the Project Gigabit digital infrastructure project that started in 2021. The Spring Budget announcement, however, should speed up development and boost investment in regional tech innovation hubs. Once these hubs are implemented across the UK, local authorities and businesses will benefit by connecting to infrastructure that can help them innovate and grow. It is important that the initiatives stimulated by these levelling up policies include provision for the expansion of edge infrastructure to support innovative projects like smart cities.
Implementation of advanced edge scenarios will also require collaboration and ecosystems, as opposed to single-vendor approaches. Regional businesses will need access to a pool of edge expertise and an ecosystem of specialist companies that understand the value each vendor brings to the solution, seamlessly providing interoperability between them. Requirements for smart city implementations, from smart parking to video analytics that help control peak traffic flow, are complex and require a combination of skillsets and supporting infrastructure to be successful. With technology skills hard to come by, having access to an ecosystem of advanced partners will be a huge advantage.
These edge ecosystems will enable businesses outside the South East to maximise performance and resilience while holding down costs. Gartner predicts 25 per cent of supply chain decisions will be made across intelligent edge ecosystems by the end of 2025. Supply chains will be more dynamic and cover larger networks where data and decisions originate at the edge – from operators, machines, sensors, and devices. Generation of this data, however, requires an architecture that optimises transit, storage and compute closer to the edge through a regional data centre.
As we look forward across the next 12 to 18 months, we can say with significant certainty that if the edge infrastructure is in place, we’ll see a subsequent advance regional growth. This will transform business opportunities and ultimately, the lives of citizens for the better.