Edge Computing and Work from Home

I believe working from anywhere will become a major new focus area of Edge Computing. I’m assuming that a significant percentage of office dwellers will no longer be going into the office and their success criteria for working remotely will drive new investment and innovation at the edge.

Rapid growth in many areas of tech

Most of us would be happy to exchange whatever we’ve gained in the last 5 months for a world without COVID19. However, the simple fact is that many parts of the technology industry have benefited greatly from the pandemic. Areas like Digital Transformation, Cloud utilization, video conferencing, gaming, and yes, Edge Computing have grown, and the associated adoption timelines have accelerated. Most of us have seen examples of spikes in usage, but just to jog your memory, here are a few of the standouts:

Microsoft Teams 900 million meeting minutes per day in Mid-March to 4.1 billion in early April

Zoom has increased daily meeting participants from 10 million in Dec 2019 to over 300 million a day during the pandemic

Netflix had to throttle bandwidth by 25% in Europe to manage demand

The above are but a few examples of the impact the pandemic had on how technology services are being consumed.

What’s next for Edge Computing as a result

The trends leading to greater development of edge solutions in late 2019 as a whole continue with all the usual suspects, retail, entertainment, gaming, industrial, and more. However, two areas that were barely mentioned before March of 2020 were online learning and working remotely. There are a number of reasons why online learning struggled, but one of the biggest issues from my perspective was the unequal distribution of internet access at usable capacities or performance. Usable meaning something better than 20mbs. In fact, I would argue that “usable” will (or should be) defined as 1Gb by 2025. However, I’m not focusing on the problem of online learning here, I want to talk about what I like to call “Work From Anywhere” (WFA). I first used the term WFA in late March 2020, I don’t know if anyone used it before that.

What is WFA

WFA is my way of calling out the changing dynamics of working remotely when an office is no longer a backup plan. Historically we’ve considered it Work From Home (WFH) because the assumption was – If you can’t work at home, you drive 30 minutes to your office. If there is no longer an office, your remote work requirements take on new meaning and complexity. WFA changes things.

Twenty plus percent of offices/buildings repurposed or closed

I tend to be conservative in making numerical estimates and frankly, I think we risk a much bigger percentage of the population working remotely than my 20% estimate. Either way, think about the ramifications. There is roughly 4 billion SF of office space in the US. If we assume that the average individual office or cubicle is 80 SF (generous), 20 percent of 4 billion SF would equate to 10 million offices. 10 million offices shuttered, closed, turned in to storage or zombie containment. Where will those 10 million former office dwellers now work?

They will WFA

OK, maybe not all 10 million will move to new locals, but if there isn’t an office local to you, then you are automatically WFA. You are no longer a 30-minute drive or 10-30 milliseconds internet distance from your office. WFA becomes important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the increased volume of remote workers and what that means for network bandwidth distribution. The good news is we seem to have found that the internet, in most cases, has withstood the pandemic, mostly. The bad news is many of these newly WFA folks are quickly going to get past the short term “suffer the struggle” of working remote. Getting past the suffer the struggle stage means they will expect the same level of application performance and experiences that they were accustomed to in the office.

How does Public Cloud fit in?

It’s true that many of our applications are already being delivered via public cloud or SaaS (I.e., Salesforce) so, what’s the difference between at home and in the office? There are a few key differences between an office environment and working from home. Even small businesses often have multiple networks to their building to avoid an outage caused by one link going down. Homes have one link plus your smart phone. Application performance has a direct impact on employee job satisfaction, not to mention productivity. Even if your link is up, there’s a high likelihood that performance will suffer in a home environment vs. a business office. When these performance issues are assumed to have an end (I.e., the pandemic will end soon), an employee or customer is more likely to put up with issues. It becomes a customer/employee satisfaction issue if the problems appear as if they might be long term. It’s also true that we’re likely to increase the amount and type of work done from home to accommodate a full long-term office separation for a much broader set of employee work functions. These “heavy user” requirements will create even more impact on the network and increase the importance of resiliency.

All I’m trying to say…

The movement to work from home will morph to what I describe as work from anywhere. My assumption is that a global number between 100-500 million people working remotely has the potential to dramatically change the drivers for network development to the edge and for how applications can be more effectively delivered to those remote or permanently mobile users. The opportunity to differentiate at the edge with external customers is well documented and desired, less discussed is the opportunity to differentiate by providing employees with a better working experience. In my book the employee is customer #1. Differentiating for your employees is differentiating for your business.