Cloud, DevOps, Edge computing

‘VMware Edge’ Promises To Bring Order to Distributed Chaos

VMware looks at the IT infrastructure world and sees disorder everywhere. And “VMware Edge,” a product suite announced at VMworld 2021, aims to bring order to the increasing state of disorder.

Sanjay Uppal, VMware SVP & GM for the Service Provider & Edge Business Unit, put the problem in stark terms during his solution keynote. “Where data is produced and consumed is completely distributed; where that data is being served is completely distributed; the people who are consuming this data are completely distributed; and the endpoints are completely distributed.”

In other words, as he said, “that order has gone right out the window.” Figure 1 is a graphic demonstration of the lack of order.

Figure 1. The highly distributed nature of users, apps, data, and so on makes management of these resources a nightmare

This fragmentation has huge implications for the enterprise. A walled garden, similar to the traditional boundary of a data center DMZ, is relatively simple to tend. When the walls are broken down and plants and weeds start running rampant, keeping control suddenly becomes a much more daunting chore.

That’s what’s happened in IT, first with the cloud, which enabled the Internet of Things (IoT), which led to the establishment of the “edge.” VMware shared an interesting and important definition of the edge, breaking it down into two distinct models: near edge and far edge. What gives each edge its characteristics is where the workloads are placed.

VMware describes it like this:

  • An edge-native workload placed anywhere between the cloud and the remote customer location and delivered as a service is called the near edge.
  • An edge-native workload placed at a remote customer location at the closest proximity to the endpoints is called the far edge.

Each edge has its own distinct requirements, but they also have much in common—namely, a need to manage and secure operations and data in even the most remote corners of the world (including under water—submarines have servers, too). See Figure 2 for an overview of what VMware sees as the technology umbrellas that service each edge environment.

Enter VMware Edge, that aims to help organizations to run, manage and secure edge-native apps across clouds. VMware is also touting its new focus on multi-cloud management of the edge, which adds another layer of complexity to the undertaking.

The Edge solution has three primary pillars:

  • VMware Edge Compute Stack. The stack is an integrated VM and container-based stack for modernizing and securing edge-native apps at the far edge. VMware Edge Compute Stack will be available in Standard, Advanced and Enterprise editions. VMware also has plans to develop a lightweight version of VMware Edge Compute Stack to provide an extremely thin edge for lightweight apps.
  • VMware SASE. SASE, or Secure Access Service Edge, combines SD-WAN capabilities with cloud-delivered security functions, including cloud web security, zero trust network access, and firewalling. These capabilities are delivered as-a-service across both the near and far edge locations from a global network of points of presence (PoPs).
  • VMware Telco Cloud Platform has been delivering near edge solutions to the largest communication service providers in the world from their 4G/5G core all the way to the radio access network (RAN). By helping service providers modernize their network underlay, VMware enables them to deliver overlay edge services to their consumer and enterprise customers.
Figure 2. An overview of VMware Edge architecture

Those pillars are directly from a VMware press release. What it means for organizations is that moving out to the compute edge is more feasible than ever, but to take full advantage, the apps at the center of it all will need to be cloud-native. If you haven’t yet started developing apps using containers (and its orchestration layer, Kubernetes), and DevOps in the form of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) of software, you’re not ready for the edge yet.

VMware is also making sure to tie all of its new products, including this one, into its multi-cloud vision. The idea is that companies should be free to use whatever public cloud they want—AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Oracle, and so on—to support its goals. So you might want AWS for a particular bit of functionality, and Azure for something else, picking and choosing from among multiple clouds.

That feels unrealistic for many organizations. Although moving at least some operations and data in the cloud is becoming commonplace, companies are still afraid of the increased cost and complexity of spanning multiple different clouds. This fear is legitimate.

In other words, VMware has its work cut out for it—but this is at the very least a promising start. VMware Edge is a comprehensive solution, with a good understanding of the landscape, and solid offerings to help edge computing flourish.