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How to Configure an Edge Data Center to Meet Your Specific Needs

Seeking to deliver services efficiently, and with minimal latency, a growing number of enterprises are planning to build and deploy edge data centers. "In a centralized cloud computing architecture, the edge of the network is traditionally where data is collected from multiple remote locations, such as sensors, controllers, and servers," observed Ron Howell, principal architect at business and IT consulting firm Capgemini Americas. "Edge computing solutions allow us to capture and analyze real-time data at high volume and high data rates while, at the same time, reducing our dependency on WAN underlay transport solutions or cloud environments."

Planning considerations

Finding an optimal location should be the first step in edge data center planning. "This will require you to consider proximity to the target market, power supply, square footage, availability of required network infrastructure, and whether the space requires a physical firewall," said Eric McGee, senior network engineer at TRGDatacenters.

An edge data center's location is almost always focused on how best to support and provide access to critical applications. "The lowest possible latency to a location should always receive preference," Howell advised. "Second to low latency is geographical separation to protect your data resources in the event of a catastrophic event in your primary areas of doing business."

Edge data center performance can be optimized with state-of-the-art technical tools including, but not limited to, SD-WAN, SASE, and virtualization, Howell said. "Solutions can be designed to include a private backbone that underlays the networking, 5G for select locations, MPLS for certain business requirements, and strong zero trust security."

Business first

Design the edge data center for business needs first, Howell advised. "The size and configuration of the edge data center should always be based on your valid business needs, today and for the foreseeable future." He also recommended planning for scalability and performance with no single point of failure, "Doing this will ensure your services will be aligned to the organization’s unique business requirements," Howell said. It will also clearly identify how the edge data center must be configured and what form and size the edge compute environment needs to be designed to support.

Optimized edge data center performance is influenced by many factors, including server performance, application performance, security overhead, network efficiency, and available bandwidth. "Use application performance measurement and management methods to understand the balance of server, application, and network interactions," Howell recommended.

An important point to remember when designing a customized edge data center is that size, and performance, aren't as closely related as many IT leaders think. "In good data center design, we can segment and isolate compute services to provide parallel paths or segmentation, and by doing so, no single system slows down or limits the other systems," Howell explained.

Resource considerations

Like any data center, regardless of size, type, or capacity, an edge facility requires access to scalable electrical power. "Evaluate both AC power plants as well as DC power plants and the right storage and backup systems," Howell suggested. "Evaluate the pros and cons and consider the need for an 'always on' network and what solution methods fit your budget."

An edge data center's power supply should be able to meet current demands as well as anticipated future power needs, McGee said. "Consider the projected power requirement for each rack and the number of uninterruptable power supplies that will be needed to operate the entire infrastructure until the generators come on," he advised. McGee also recommended deploying a sufficient number of generators to keep the data center running for up to 48 hours in an emergency situation.

The edge data center's HVAC system should be as efficient as financially possible in order to keep operational expenses from spiraling out of control, particularly in locations that are likely to experience extended periods of heat or cold. "Factor in how you will monitor the temperature in the data center [and] how many BTUs the physical space can definitively support," McGee recommended.

Edge data centers come in an almost endless number of configurations and can be placed in locations as varied as office closets, basements, cell towers, and even lampposts. Yet regardless of the data center's form factor or site placement, it will be necessary to provide easy access to authorized personnel, as well as fire and flooding suppression systems. "Other considerations to make include the overall security needs of the physical location and whether these needs require advanced technological solutions, such as biometrics," McGee said.