The lessons of history: spotting the EDGE opportunity
By early 2020, Pulsant had evolved into a midmarket service provider focused on regional businesses. Catering to this demanding community, Pulsant had developed a range of platforms and data centres to service those businesses that drive the economic growth of UK plc.
Throughout this evolution - as ‘digital transformation’ became critical for commercial success - Pulsant saw many of these enterprises frustrated in their attempts to embrace the opportunities offered by new technology.
For these regional enterprises, digital transformation imposed distance. The perspective was that embracing such strategies led to ‘consuming something far off’ and risked change based on technologies without a clear, proven business case.
Pulsant saw the opportunity to take an array of data centres across the UK, network them and combine them with a cloud platform to create the UK’s first EDGE network. This would combine the agility, focus and relevance of a local presence with the power, scope, and opportunity of an international digital infrastructure.
Hear from Rob Coupland, CEO at Pulsant, and Simon Michie, CTO at Pulsant, on the road to platformEDGE™ below.
Rob Coupland explains: “Modern business is digital. But it is also regional. The way deals are done in the North East or Scotland differs from how it happens in London. Technology needs to reflect these differences. We have built a thirty-year business around responding to such idiosyncrasies and becoming the growth partner for regional businesses.
This has marked us out as the industry moved to centralised cloud infrastructures and assumed geography was irrelevant – it is not. There has been - and continues to be - huge regeneration in the regions. The need for a locally relevant infrastructure to overcome the digital divide, and the assumption that everything has to happen in London and the South East, both remain.
Within these communities of regional organisations, many don’t think of themselves as digital businesses, but this is changing rapidly. We see huge innovation in the technology hubs we serve, and these businesses often now need a gateway out to global markets as they grow.
We have seen this evolution before with the dawn of broadband, so we set out to create the UK’s first, truly nationwide, next-generation edge infrastructure platform - investing more than £100 million in the last 12 months alone.”
Simon Michie adds: “Businesses across the UK have seen the exponential increase of devices collecting and creating more data. But it is not just more data opening up more applications. The UK has also begun a long overdue catch-up on enabling fibre to the premises, supported by 5G coverage. This has awakened regional technology hubs across the UK and the domestic software development market. Forward-thinking leaders want to know the impact this technology can have for their business.”
Putting it into action
Meeting this demand was a huge undertaking. A team was formed under Simon Michie and an aggressive strategy was developed to guide a phased investment. The objective was to turn Pulsant into the UK EDGE computing platform of choice.
The strategy was built on three pillars:
1. Connecting the Pulsant portfolio of 12 data centres with a low-latency backbone that could offer the highest performance in both primary and failover states
2. Evolving these data centres into local connectivity hubs that would become the technological focal point for regional businesses
3. Interconnecting this UK resource to public cloud and international data centres to offer unparalleled opportunities for growth
Once this infrastructure was put in place, Pulsant added a cloud platform throughout these locations. This focuses on the core technology hubs of Edinburgh, the north-east, London and the south-east corridors, delivering an array of digital services.
From an operational perspective, in developing the UK’s first EDGE network, Pulsant set out to create a nationwide fabric that would enable businesses to put workloads where they most needed to be. This is backed by a consumer-grade, public-cloud user experience that ensures high levels of usability.
Lastly, the final consideration at this initial juncture was to ensure flexibility by using Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to drive changes through code and an API.
Rob Coupland explains: “Our pedigree in regional co-location led us to realise that the model is still very valid for many businesses, and we had built an impressive estate. But it was clear that by networking the portfolio strategically, we could create something greater than the sum of its parts to open the possibilities of edge computing.
We were – and remain – keenly aware of changes in attitudes. There has been a move away from the idea that hyperscale public cloud would do everything for businesses - and hybrid models that blend EDGE, co-lo, cloud and other resources, were simply a step on the way. It turns out that actually, hybrid IS the destination because it enables a business to put the workload where it needs to be. This is the defining element of how enterprises – especially those in the regions - want to drive their own technology resources.
You can think of it in terms of football. Imagine taking the best two players from each team in division one, putting them under the best coach in the country, giving them the manager of the team at the top of the Premier League and access to the current World Cup winners – and then sending them out to play whatever match you need to win.”
How does this all look in action?
Even within the industry, talk of ‘digital infrastructure’ – be it data centres, networks, clouds, and platforms - can get very dry. It is how these things are used that inspires – both in terms of what they enable businesses to do, and how they enable them to do it.
The dawn – and evolution – of smart cities is a massive area of interest for EDGE. Local authorities are going to be able to transform the lives of millions of people. This spans everything from smarter and more responsive bin collection, intelligent street lighting and improved security, to better pollution control, more sustainable traffic flows and the deployment of autonomous vehicles throughout a densely urban environment.
The guiding principle here is incredibly simple – data processed closer to the city means it can be acted upon quicker, which makes life better. The massive amounts of data that a city such as Edinburgh generates means it is simply not economically viable to push data elsewhere for processing.
And by keeping that data ‘closer to home’, local software development can use it to drive experimentation and innovation.
There are other high-density workloads that underpin markets with massive potential: high-resolution video analytics and VR gaming are two very different examples.
High-resolution video feeds can now be drawn from a myriad of sources: drones equipped with 8k cameras, mobile phones, static sites, dash cams, CCTV and more. And whilst early analytics have focused on the likes of ANPR and surveillance, the development towards intelligent analysis is opening up new possibilities such as remote inspection.
Throughout the UK, virtual reality (VR) gaming has taken off as immersive arcades have appeared in most major towns and cities. These are part of a UK AR / VR market that is projected to break the billion-dollar mark in 2023 and show an annual growth rate of 13.84%, resulting in a projected market volume of $1.9bn by 2027.
Elsewhere, logistics and haulage companies with substantial fleets of sensor-equipped vehicles are starting to realise the benefits of fast processing use of the data that a fleet can provide, creating an agile supply chain. And manufacturers are embracing Industry 4.0, with plants and machinery creating entire oceans of data.
Innovation and development accelerate throughout all of these markets when the performance of key applications improves - and that demands that these huge data sets are processed nearer to the users. And commercially, there are huge cost savings to be made by not transporting such large amounts of data around the country.
Simon Michie comments: “One of the most exciting developments is just around the corner. Imagine the impact of half a million software developers working without infrastructure constraints, and often focused on local or regional challenges. There is the potential for a step change in how technology is deployed in many of these cities and the wider communities.”
Rob Coupland concludes: “As we move into a data-driven future, an EDGE network that spans the UK and turns each region into a technological nexus, will become a key asset in driving innovation and competitive advantage. Our ambition is that by connecting businesses, people, and data, we unleash waves of opportunities that re-position the UK as the intellectual and commercial pathfinder for the 21st century.”