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CenturyLink Beefs Up ‘Edge’ Capabilities

Services provider CenturyLink this week announced plans to roll out an initial 100 edge computing locations in the U.S. in order to move its hybrid and managed cloud services closer to where customer interactions happen. The rollout plans come with an investment of several hundred million dollars, the company said.
The Next Big Thing
The edge concept is growing in popularity as awareness spreads that a centralized cloud isn’t the best place for analyzing everything. Retailers looking to understand in-store data, an airport doing facial recognition, or a port of call studying shipping information might be better served storing and processing the data at the edge.
Most of the enterprises I’ve talked to that are considering edge computing believe the infrastructure needs to be on premises for the best performance. CenturyLink can deliver sub-five-millisecond latency transport from its 100+ edge computing sites to almost anywhere in the country, CenturyLink told me. That kind of low-latency response time is ideal for apps such as virtual reality, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).
Cloud has obviously been all the rage for the past decade or so, but edge computing will be the “next big thing” — an excellent complement to cloud services. The initial wave of edge products came from on-premises vendors; this shouldn’t be a surprise as early adopters have preferred DIY solutions. In this case, however, the DIY approach is limited by the large amount of infrastructure — spread out among many locations rather than centralized — edge computing requires. This includes storage, compute, network services, security, and more. Even if a business can afford to buy all necessary technology, stitching it together is non-trivial and highly complex.
Disruption Imminent?
This presents an excellent opportunity for a company like CenturyLink to disrupt the market. CenturyLink certainly has the size and scale to compete with the likes of Verizon and AT&T but doesn’t have the same name-brand recognition, particularly with enterprise-class customers. This could work in its favor as network vendors and communication services providers transition away from transport-only to full-stack — security, mobile, cloud, edge, UC, software-defined WAN, and other services — models.
If businesses are going to rely on telcos for their digital transformation efforts, then service providers need to shift from product-centric to customer success-centric — an opportunity for CenturyLink to differentiate. The size of its network gives it an advantage over regional cable operators, but it should be nimbler than legacy incumbents with their glacier-like speed, too. Currently, AT&T and Verizon have edge initiatives, but it’s not a fait accompli that customers will use either for high-value services, particularly in light of the providers’ track records of poor customer service.
The key for CenturyLink is to seamlessly tie its adjacent network and cloud services to the edge. Recall that CenturyLink acquired Level 3, which had purchase Global Crossing several years ago. I’ve long felt that no service provider had a better and more-agile IP backbone than Global Crossing, which never managed to articulate the differences to customers.
Today, because of the sophistication of the former Global Crossing network as a foundation, CenturyLink has a highly dynamic network that can provide real-time provisioning from the customer premises to the 100+ edge locations. The company can also bridge the edge to the cloud via its Cloud Connect Dynamic Connections, which provide a fast on-ramp to the Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform public clouds.
Digital transformation continues to pick up steam as almost all organizations are looking to improve customer experience and improve operational efficiency via automation and AI. The cloud is core to that, and now the edge is gaining momentum. CenturyLink’s massive network and cloud presence give it a real shot at disrupting a stagnant telco industry.