Edge computing solutions based on Intel technology have already powered tens of thousands of deployments — generating significant value to Intel’s customers and billions of dollars in Intel revenue. Our customers leverage Intel products to build Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, 5G infrastructure and enterprise networking products deployed at the edge. We’re working with partners and customers to deliver and deploy edge solutions based on our Intel® Xeon®, Intel® Core™, Intel Atom®, FPGA, vision processing unit (VPU) and networking silicon portfolio – and open, containerized software frameworks, like Smart Edge, OpenVINO™ toolkit for AI inferencing and our Infrastructure Programmer Development Kit (IPDK).1 It is a growing and thriving business at Intel.
The Shift to Distributed Architecture
But I believe we are just getting started. The way we use the internet and deliver software applications is undergoing a paradigm shift: from centralized clusters of compute and data stores to a more distributed compute and networking architecture. This cloud-to-edge infrastructure model combines unrivaled scale and capacity in the cloud with the edges, where response times are faster and data is kept close by. At Intel, we see this model as a technology superpower shaping digital transformation across industries.
This change is driven by societal shifts: the rapid evolution of remote and hybrid work, the digitization and automation of physical work in factories, retail stores, healthcare, etc., and the rising privacy concerns and corresponding governmental regulations requiring data to be processed and kept close to the source. These shifts will necessitate the need for large amounts of compute infrastructure to be deployed at the edge, for edge AI platforms to make sense of the large amounts of data being produced and drive intelligent automation, and for networks to be software-defined and programmable to dynamically stitch the distributed compute infrastructure to workers connecting from anywhere.
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I am convinced, based on my own 25 years in the tech business, both as a professor at Stanford and as the founder of several startups, that this paradigm shift and resulting explosive growth of edge computing represents a huge opportunity for Intel, and for our industry as a whole.
But where exactly is “the edge?” It’s actually a term that broadly encompasses the many locations that share the property of data computation and storage placed close to the origin or consumption of that data – and/or to the end user. The edge includes the on-premise edge (where most data is generated and will host a significant portion of AI workloads), the telco network edge with carrier data centers and central offices (where software-defined 5G/6G networks are deployed), and the colo (or colocated) edge with computing facilities owned by hosting or cloud service providers (where software-defined enterprise networking, security and latency-sensitive applications like gaming are being deployed).
Intel’s Edge Strategy
Intel’s ambition at the edge is to provide our customers, and especially their software developers, with the industry’s absolute best and broadest programmable platforms. Our edge strategy is twofold: We will deliver programmable platforms to:
- Transform the operational systems at every enterprise premise – whether this is assembly line monitoring on a factory floor, point-of-sale (POS) terminals in a retail store, patient-monitoring systems in a hospital, or supply chain management at a logistics hub – to be software-defined and automated and using AI on modern cloud native software platforms.
- Transform the world’s networks to be software-defined and programmable, to flexibly and securely connect these distributed enterprise premises to hybrid workers and mobile consumers.
We are leveraging our world-class capabilities in process, scale manufacturing and software to support this strategy and speed the deployment of edge computing solutions to enable these transformations. We are also leveraging our network leadership and experience.
For more than a decade, Intel has been lifting the world’s networks out of legacy, fixed-function hardware and liberating them to be defined by open and interoperable software. We’ve been leading this network transformation in both wired data center networks and cellular wireless networks. In 4G/5G networks, we have powered the shift to virtualization in the core with network function virtualization (NFV) and the radio access network with virtual RAN (vRAN) and Open RAN. We have a great track record here, with more than half of all new 5G core network deployments in 2021 being virtualized, and with the vast majority of commercial 5G vRAN deployments running on Intel, including 140 licensees using our FlexRAN™ software reference architecture. A great customer example here is Rakuten Mobile in Japan, which is delivering world-class 5G services using an end-to-end fully-virtualized, open, cloud-native network – 100% built on Intel platforms.2
We are similarly leading the transformation of wired data center networks to software-defined fabrics building on our Ethernet adapters, infrastructure processing units (IPUs) and P4 programmable intelligent fabric processors (IFPs). Having the ability to program a device in the network enables unprecedented flexibility for network innovation without changing the hardware. Having this capability end to end, where all networking devices in a data path are programmable, further enhances the flexibility and scalability of the network.
Empowering Partners at the Edge with AI and 5G
Intel partners with many companies to deliver solutions to a wide range of customers stretching across verticals like retail, banking, hospitality, education, manufacturing, energy, healthcare and medical to drive enterprise digital transformation and automation. We are empowering these partners to build edge platforms that process, analyze and store data closer to where it is generated and consumed – arming them with powerful AI and 5G building blocks to enable rapid, real-time analysis and response. AI, specifically inferencing at the edge, provides actionable intelligence where and when the data happens. As such, it is becoming the most prolific use case at the edge, transforming and automating factories, smart cities, hospitals and more. Programmable 5G networks enable our partners to connect large swarms of sensors and smart devices such as robots with high-bandwidth, low-latency, reliable and deterministic wireless connections to software and AI running on Intel’s programmable platforms. Together, we are marching with our partners, to this shared vision of autonomous operations at the enterprise edge.
We are not stopping at just building programmable hardware platforms. We are arming developers with open software building blocks such as IPDK that enable them to access the features of our hardware in modern, cloud native software platforms such as Kubernetes. Furthermore, we are delivering toolkits to enable them to develop optimized inference models for the edge with OpenVINO. Intel will continue to invest in ensuring that we deliver the most delightful developer experience for edge software developers.
With these platforms, Intel is creating a dynamic and reliable path for ubiquitous compute – from the cloud to the intelligent edge. In turn, our customers, software developers, technologists and end-users will innovate on these platforms to come up with amazing applications that will change our lives and our businesses in ways that we can’t even imagine today.
Nick McKeown is senior vice president and general manager of the Network and Edge Group (NEX) at Intel Corporation.