Google Cloud opens up on its edge strategy – and how clouds, telcos and developers all need to work together

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

Workloads, data and compute power are all moving closer to the edge. For the largest cloud players, who already hold many of the aces, this represents an important opportunity. Yet to do so fully, as Shailesh Shukla, VP and general manager networking at Google Cloud explained, it requires help from telecom providers and developers alike.

Shukla was speaking at The Edge Event earlier today around the hyperscaler’s perspective. Speaking with Roy Illsley, chief analyst IT and enterprise at Omdia, Shukla outlined three primary challenges in the implementation of edge computing: logistics, technical issues, and economics. Yet all of these can be overcome.

“Edge brings tremendous opportunities, but it also brings challenges,” he said. “I believe that going forward the opportunities will outweigh the challenges.

“The technologies public cloud providers are bringing about the ability to consume, analyse, and many very large amounts of data, creating an elastic environment, coupled with ISVs building applications on top… [with] all of that put together over a period of time, the opportunities are going to outweigh the challenges.”

The push towards telecoms has been seen in various moves made by the hyperscale cloud providers. Earlier this week, Microsoft made what could be seen as the boldest move yet by announcing Azure for Operators, as well as extending its partnership with AT&T. The company had previously acquired Metaswitch Networks and Affirmed Networks to bolster its stack.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), with the launch of Wavelength, ushered in a major edge play. The company’s extensive partnership with Verizon, announced at re:Invent last year, fed into this. Google Cloud, meanwhile, has partnerships with Orange, Telefonica and AT&T, as well as making Anthos, its app management platform, more telecom-friendly. Google Cloud has a wider Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy, in tandem with various operators, while Microsoft is a founder member of the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

The telco cloud vision has long since departed from the days when Verizon, who once bought Terremark to build a public cloud, were competing with AWS et al. Why? The rise and convergence of artificial intelligence (AI), where the cloud players hold sway, 5G, where the telcos have power, and edge bringing it all together, means this current path makes sense, as Shukla (below, right) explained.

“Our approach is to partner with this ecosystem,” he told delegates. “Bring all the goodness of public cloud, work with telecom carriers, and create specific use cases for specific verticals that solve specific business problems.

“It’s the ecosystem of cloud providers such as Google, the telecom service providers that have the infrastructure at the edge and the network capability, coupled with the developers and ISV ecosystem, [who] can come together to solve specific challenges and use cases and business problems for the enterprise community,” Shukla added. “The specific use cases will depend on the vertical, but the three elements – cloud, telecom, ISVs and app developers – have to come together to create the solutions.”

Google Cloud has made no secret that its primary vertical targets are financial services, healthcare, and retail. It was the latter which Shukla cited as an edge use case example. Through its work with AT&T, Google is partnering with an unnamed North American retailer to ‘create a completely different consumer experience’. A customer can take a photo of a certain outfit, for instance, and once done so the image is sent to Google’s edge, via AT&T’s connectivity, and through AI and inferencing models, the best solution can be found.

Major League Baseball, who Google poached from AWS to great fanfare earlier this year, was also noted by Shukla. The sporting body ‘can provide analytics and game stats directly to the end user in a stadium’, Shukla said. In this instance, one can see edge as bringing the public cloud experience direct-to-stadium. “[There is] a lot of local processing, many elements of inferencing based on what a user is seeing, what a camera is seeing… it brings together a lot of different capabilities to enrich the stadium experience for a fan,” he added.

The developer aspect is the glue which binds the cloud vendors and telcos together. Operators want developers to create 5G applications, while cloud providers want to attract developers because the journey for data being transmitted right now is arduous; from the device to the cell tower, to the aggregation sites, to the Internet, and then the cloud provider.

With edge, this process will be sped up. What developers, or builders, in AWS’ terms, really want “is AWS to be embedded somehow in these 5G edge locations,” as AWS chief Andy Jassy put it last year.

For Shukla, the open approach is critical – he cited Kubernetes as an example of this policy – and there is a similarity with how the Android ecosystem developed. Cloud providers need developers for three reasons, he said: edge is where a lot of data will get collected, processed and managed; developers will play a significant role in providing security and compliance around that; and given the number of locations, creating ML and AI algorithms, and utilising automation, will be crucial.

“Our approach in the evolving edge market is to create that Anthos-based abstraction layer upon which an ecosystem of developers, and value added service providers, can flourish,” said Shukla. “It then abstracts the underlying complex infrastructure and gives developers a free rein… driving creativity.”

Want to learn more about topics like this from thought leaders in the space? Find out more about the Edge Computing Expo, a brand new, innovative event and conference exploring the edge computing ecosystem.

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