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2021 State of the Edge Report Shows Impact of COVID-19 on Edge Use

A recent edge report by the Linux Foundation concluded that the global pandemic has changed which industries will have the largest edge computing architecture footprint going forward.

Surprising nobody who’s watched IT news for the last year, the most recent edition of the Linux Foundation’s annual State of the Edge report documented the lingering impact that COVID-19-prompted edge computing developments will have. The previous year had projected the use of edge computing architecture on an industry-by-industry basis in 2028. Consequently, the Linux Foundation’s State of the Edge project has revisited many of the forecasts it made in its 2020 report.

"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 the edge data center company Vapor IO, in a statement. "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."

Pandemic Related Increased Edge Footprints

Digital healthcare is the most obvious example of an industry that's greatly expanded its use of the edge computing architecture during the pandemic. COVID-19 fueled increased edge reliance in digital imaging, remote healthcare and assisted living facilities. Consequently, the 2021 State of the Edge report forecasts that by 2028, the healthcare industry will account for 8.6% of the edge's global infrastructure, a jump from the 6.8% forecast in last year’s report.

Manufacturing is another vertical that's expected to permanently occupy a bigger percentage in the overall edge infrastructure post-COVID 19. The State of the Edge report now predicts that manufacturing will account for 6.2% of the edge's infrastructure by 2028, up from last year's prediction of 3.9%, as companies seek to bolster weaknesses in their supply chain and inventory management capabilities that the pandemic revealed.

Retail is another area that will take an increasing role in edge computing architecture. Although last year's report made no long-term forecast for retail, this year's report predicts that in 2028, retail's global edge footprint will be 4.6%.

"Permanent consumer behavior changes that favor ecommerce are likely to prevail after the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to compromise traditional retail," the State of the Edge report said. "Service continuity is important for retail, particularly for point-of-sale payment systems, which generally depend on Device Edge capabilities. Infrastructure Edge solutions are used for a range of use cases, including digital signage and Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) experiences, immersive in-store solutions, proximity marketing and supply chain optimization."

Not all of manufacturing's increased edge computing architecture footprint can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic: the automotive industry is facing greatly increased demand for electric vehicles and is expected to invest in new manufacturing facilities that will take advantage of developing automation technologies, wireless connectivity and autonomous systems like autonomous mobile robots.

"This requires extensive edge computing functionality, the lion’s share of which is expected to reside at the Device Edge, particularly for Operational Technologies," the report stated. "However, use cases that span geographical areas beyond the boundaries of individual factories, such as warehousing, supply chain and logistics, will also require Infrastructure Edge capabilities."

Also on the rise is edge use by so-called smart cities, which use a range of digital services, including those relating to security and surveillance, and for operations such as waste management or water purification.

"As more cities implement digital services, their value propositions become better understood and easier to justify elsewhere," the report stated. "While the Device Edge addresses many smart city use case demands, it is forecast that 6.1% of the global Infrastructure Edge in 2028 will support smart-city use cases. These use cases include smart buildings, lighting and traffic management and other digital services for public safety, venues and city operations."

Technology Driving Edge Growth

The State of the Edge report goes into great detail about the technology driving edge computing architecture, including:

Off-the-shelf services and applications intended to take the risk out of rapidly deploying at the edge: This includes a diversity of edge-focused processor platforms, which now include Arm-based solutions, SmartNICs with FPGA-based workload acceleration and GPUs.

New types of interconnection at edge facilities: "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," the report stated.

The standardization of 5G, next-generation SD-WAN and SASE (Secure Access Service Edge):  Per the report: "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."

"This year's report features the analysis of diverse experts, mirroring the collaborative approach that we see thriving in the edge computing ecosystem," said State of the Edge co-chair Jacob Smith in a statement. "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."

The State of the Edge Project

The State of the Edge project that produces the report is the brainchild of Trifiro and Equinix bare metal strategy VP Smith.

In a 2020 interview last year with sister publication Data Center Knowledge, Trifiro explained that the two had conceived the project as "a vendor-neutral organization that would create research that was freely available and issued under a Creative Commons license so anybody can download and distribute it."

The edge report, which includes a 20 page glossary of edge-related terms, is available for free downloaded from the State of the Edge website.

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