Emerging network edge trends to watch out for in 2021

As spending on edge computing increases, here's five significant focus areas for businesses next year and beyond.


This is a contributed article by Steve Miller-Jones, VP Edge Strategy & Solution Architecture at Limelight Networks.

What is edge? Ask three different people and you may get three completely different answers. The most common definitions include a range of identifiable edge locations that encompass industrial and IoT edge; consumer and retail edge; enterprise edge; and 5G and telco edge.  

Limelight believes that the network edge is a part of the telco edge. It is distributed across multiple locations and is used for the orchestrated deployment of services and applications into those locations. These are used to both control the distribution and delivery of data to and from devices downstream.  

In the last year, we have seen advances in both the range of edge services and their adoption within a variety of content and enterprise workflows. Expectations for edge services are high: content platforms and enterprises anticipate they will have a significant impact in solving challenges such as optimising content, low-latency delivery, scaling services and improving application and content security. 

In 2021 there will be a growing number of use cases established at scale within the network edge. Here we have identified five significant focus areas for businesses next year and beyond: 

Customisation in content workflow 

The rise of the network edge has seen the introduction of a new suite of services from network service providers and CDNs. Most visible today are Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) offerings, which offer orchestrated environments for customers where they can deploy their own functions. Good examples of these are image resizing for different devices, and manipulation of video to offer the best bitrate and format for the device being used. In 2021, we can expect the variety and scope of customisation capabilities grow, helping enterprises meet high end user expectations when it comes to accessing and consuming content.   

The over-the-top (OTT) or internet-based distribution workflow is a key area where the network edge can be harnessed. While focused on content, this is a rich seam of functionality focused on areas including: content personalisation and monetisation; device-specific content selection; content preparation, formatting and packaging; data services within media content; and interaction during content consumption. 

The Developer Edge 

In recent years the content delivery industry has seen the rise of the “as-code” automation paradigm for developers. Everything can be considered to be manageable “as-code” if it can be automated, including the network edge.  

The network edge offers automated environments that can be incorporated into deployment workflows and controlled with code – making it easier and more efficient for developers to manage, monitor, integrate and innovate. It can enable applications to be easily deployed into multiple network locations and controlled through code. In the next few years we can expect developers to push the possibilities of “as-code” and as a result see more of the content workflow take place at the network edge.  

Content security 

The maturation of OTT content services has led to continued challenges, including protecting content from piracy, illegitimate access and unauthorised re-distribution. To address this, there will be increased efforts and opportunities in the network edge to enforce and improve content security. For many industries, protecting content exclusivity is key to their business model, so we can expect significant focus on issues such as access and identity control; watermarking; digital rights management; reporting and analytics; and the ability to stop identified piracy as it is taking place. Investing in CDN offerings that can monitor network traffic and identify anomalies without introducing latency into content delivery, even for live streams, will be key for content services to both optimise the end user experience and protect business models such as monthly subscriptions and pay-to-view. 

Perimeter security 

The deployment of application functionality to the network edge as functions, in containers and into bare metal and virtualised environments, is changing enterprise security. Security at the network edge will increasingly be concerned with perimeter security, data integrity and identity management. For example, in remote learning this would include ensuring that students have safe and secure environments to access the educational content they need, wherever they are.  

We can expect that enterprises across industries will continue to invest in a range of security services to both take advantage of the network edge and to keep the latest threats at bay without impacting performance and experience. 

Data processing 

The network edge makes it possible to affect data as it flows towards end users and devices, and to control the flow of data from those devices. Shipping large quantities of raw data towards cloud providers is expensive and can introduce significant latency. This is why the network edge will be used more for data processing and decision making in future. It allows access to multiple compute locations close to end users and devices, therefore removing the potential for latency without incurring additional operational overheads. The net result is improved content performance in a cost efficiency way, with built-in security and scale.  

This will take the form of hosted command and control planes for industrial edge services, as much as it will consist of discrete services that are designed to consume, aggregate and process data. In industries such as OTT streaming, it will allow content providers to bring more personalisation and interaction options to end users, in order to drive engagement. Meanwhile for industrial settings, using the network edge to process large quantities of sensor-based data quickly will allow businesses to adapt more easily to data-driven, ML and AI decisions – creating opportunity to be more efficient, reduce resource waste, and eliminate downtime by spotting faults sooner.  

Beyond the network edge 

The emergence of the network edge as a segment within the 5G and telco edge, is a signal that applications and services as-code will be deployed further and further towards the final “consumption edge” - the device.  

In the next year and beyond, the expansion of the network edge will encompass both a greater number of locations and locations that are further embedded within telco networks, extending the reach and scope of the network edge. The wealth of opportunities that the network edge offers is truly transformational, putting enterprises firmly in control of how they utilise orchestrated resources in distributed locations and customise their services to answer rapidly evolving end user challenges and expectations in 2021.  

Steve Miller-Jones is VP Edge Strategy & Solution Architecture at Limelight Networks. In this role he is responsible for Limelight’s Edge strategy and innovating to deliver the highest quality online experiences. Miller-Jones has extensive experience in the CDN and media distribution industries spanning video workflows from field encoding to global CDN operations, solution engineering for Broadcast, Media & Entertainment and Enterprise markets and running Product Management for Limelight’s portfolio.