2020 was an unprecedented year in terms of social and economic norms due to the global pandemic. From social distancing and travel restrictions to restaurant limitations and more, new challenges paved the way for accelerated technology advancements to meet the increased demands of a fully remote and otherwise isolated society. Be it how we fulfill our jobs, teach, learn, collaborate, or simply keep in touch with friends and family, every citizen represents a customer of the rapidly advancing Intelligent Edge domain.
So, what is the Intelligent Edge? What is it made of, and more importantly, what is it made for? In perhaps an overly broad definition, the Intelligent Edge can be viewed as ubiquitous connectivity of data eventing that drives digital experiences. Some of the initially-realized use cases of IoT devices, sensors and smart homes scratched the surface of what the future could yield. Yet taking a step back, we see that many of those solutions were simply an evolution of request/response experience paradigms that are several decades old. For example, an Alexa skill that traverses a series of multiple-choice prompts replacing a web or mobile app is objectively neat, but ultimately the same experience.
Intelligent Edge unlocks concepts that would otherwise be couched as science fiction in the past: wearables and implants that perform real-time health analytics, provide dietary or exercise advice, and even automatically administer medicine/treatment; financial products that perform a real-time determination and arbitrage of paying cash, liquidating investments or extending credit at point/time of sale to replace fixed lines of credit and traditional checking and savings accounts. Even smart cities and smart battlefields that provide real-time insight/decision aids and ranging to autonomous decision making of vehicles, buildings, and other physical infrastructure.
So how is this possible? Several IT advancements have continued to lead to the delivery and secure evolution of this future technology landscape.
At the forefront of this revolutionary change in landscape is security. The emergence of the zero-trust security model predates the new Intelligent Edge. But while the base concepts of “no implicit trust” and “deny-by-default connectivity” may intuitively seem at odds with the idea of ubiquitous connectivity, they in fact are the key to achieving that result securely. Traditional castle and moat security solutions – namely VPNs and firewalls – simply do not scale to accommodate the Intelligent Edge model with trillions of resources producing and consuming data events. In the same way that a constitutional democracy empowers its citizens to be centrally governed and remain autonomous with regards to their social interactions and establish their own circles of trust, zero trust architecture establishes the same through software-defined micro-perimeters and globally distributed policy decision and enforcement points.
The evolution of DevOps culture to DevSecOps marries the “shift-left” and “automate everything” philosophies from DevOps with the continuous security and deny-by-default philosophies from zero trust by baking in the security mindset throughout the lifecycle. This has an important and timely net effect of providing security and audit capabilities of the software supply chain from cradle to grave. Adherence to DevSecOps and zero trust architecture would provide defense in depth to catch vulnerabilities before code is shipped, identify and isolate vulnerabilities down range —all the while controlling horizontal movement of the malicious actor.
Cloud at the Edge
The approachability and API-driven Infrastucture-as-a-Service/Platform-as-a-Service/Software-as-a-Service from commercial cloud service providers have been the most dramatic enablers of the shift to automation, software-defined everything, and the democratized adoption of DevSecOps. Influenced by the shift to distributed computing and ubiquitous connectivity, we see the emergence of content security policy (CSP) solutions such as AWS Outpost, Azure Stack Edge, and Google Anthos that extend the approachable capability for developing and operating securely at scale outside of the traditional data center/cloud region ecosystem. This in turn unlocks exponentially larger compute and store power at the edge while maintaining a seamless interface back to the unbounded capacity of the CSP.
Kubernetes at the Edge
Extending the reach of software-defined everything, continuous delivery, continuous monitoring, and continuous security even further out on the edge, advancements in portability of Kubernetes distributions like K3s and K2s achieves the same benefits of cloud at the edge all the way down to embedded solutions on sensors and platforms. Recent successes of the U.S. Air Force with Kubernetes aboard air frames capable of receiving software updates in near-real-time while in flight is just scratching the surface of the battlefield of the future. Hybrid architectures that incorporate CSP at global scale with Kubernetes at the edge are able to reach further, faster and avoid proportional increase in operations and maintenance burden.
With promises of 100x increase in bandwidth and reduction of latency, 5G provides the backbone for the Intelligent Edge of the future. As far as the envelope could be pushed with the aforementioned technology advancements, at the end of the day, enabling the edge at global scale is severely bandwidth-limited, resulting in cases of over-optimization, obfuscation, and data loss. By opening the aperture on the volume of data that can be moved, technologists of the future can spend more energy being mission-focused and unlock the potential of the broad corpus of the global event stream.