By Dillan Conn
Every day, each of us connects to the internet. And every day – be it for work, smart lights in the home, streaming Netflix on your phone, or powering a self-driving car – we all connect to the “Edge”. But many still don’t know what the Edge is. So, what is the Edge and how does it relate to your connectivity and the internet at large?
Routers and modems enabling Bluetooth and Wi–Fi all rely on bandwidth supplied by residential and business internet providers. Each device that requires a connection uses these services to access the internet and when that connection is down, or slow, or unreliable in any way – work suffers, frustrations emerge as content is buffered, and day-to-day browsing becomes unreliable and spotty. Whether your internet access is for local browsing, global interactions or accessing cloud applications like Microsoft 365, any connection is subject to latency – this is where the Edge comes in.
The Edge and all of the technologies above have one thing in common: Data Centers. A quick history lesson on the origin of data centers would be helpful in understanding the Edge.
It all began in 1946 with the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), built for the U.S. Army to store artillery firing codes, stored in a special “computer room” which at the time filled entire rooms. In the 1960s IBM created the first mainframe computer used by very large companies and government agencies. But computers didn’t talk to each other until the government funded ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) which delivered its first node-to-node message from one computer to another on October 29, 1969.
In the 1980s, Personal Computers (PCs) were introduced, leading to a boom in the microcomputer industry. Scientists developed a new technology (TCP/IP) allowing PCs to communicate with one another and the basis for our modern-day internet was formed. Upon inception, and before fiber optic technology was developed as a more efficient means of transmitting data, the internet utilized a telephone connection (modem) to connect one computer to another and share information. This shared information needed to be stored somewhere, and in the early 1990s microcomputers began filling old mainframe computer rooms which became known as “data centers.”
As computers became mainstream for both business and consumer use, demand increased for the storage of data – traditionally stored locally on computer hard drives or ‘floppy discs’ – technology accelerated to leverage external servers located in data centers and soon thereafter, websites were created. Websites (which are hosted by third parties) became the first “cloud-based” keepers and providers of information. Additionally, the development of new programs established a need for users to have shared access to these programs – opening the door for cloud applications.
So here we are still in the 1990s and we have laid the groundwork for data centers, external servers, cloud-based storage and cloud applications. The digital world of 2021 now spins almost unimaginatively faster than when these technologies were created and thus communications providers continue to find ways to help businesses and consumers keep up. This is where the Edge takes center stage. The “Edge” is a means of decentralizing how information is stored, housing it closer to the end user and ensuring a lower latency and better digital experience.
No longer are the only caching sites for Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants housed solely in Tier 1 cities and data centers on the coasts. By diversifying where information is stored across the country and the world, content providers, cloud service providers and businesses of all stripes house information closer to the people using it on a daily basis – limiting the load on a network and improving efficiency.
On International Data Center Day, an annual holiday formed by the 7×24 Exchange, providers across the industry pay homage to the importance of data centers for day-to-day digital communication. The purpose of the holiday is to inspire younger people to consider careers in the data center sector. Data centers are core to digital infrastructure and everything ‘data’ must pass through or reside in a data center. There are many different types of jobs required in data centers, and it’s a career both satisfying and inspiring. As you read this, consider where you’re reading it from. Which data center is this content hosted in? Perhaps it’s in multiple facilities. Where are you reading this? Perhaps the data bits traversed multiple networks to get to you. By the time it downloads to your computer or device, only milliseconds of time has passed and the various networks and number of locations required to deliver the data in this message are just a blip on your screen. Welcome to the world of data centers, where the internet lives.