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Edge virtualization and virtualization in the local data center are fundamentally different. When an IT administrator virtualizes a typical server, that admin usually aims for consolidation: the ability to run multiple isolated workloads simultaneously on the same hardware device to use a greater portion of the hardware's resources and, therefore, fewer servers. However, virtualizing the edge has different imperatives and requirements compared to virtualizing the data center.
A typical edge device, such as an IoT sensor, delivers real-time performance in a specific, limited job. Edge devices contain a minimal amount of processor, memory and I/O resources to keep size, power use and costs at a minimum. For this reason, many edge devices and dedicated compute appliances, such as firewalls, use reduced instruction set computer rather than complex instruction set computer processors. Virtualizing an IoT device doesn't leave enough resources free to host additional VMs.
Why virtualize an edge device?
Edge virtualization offers few benefits when it comes to consolidation. Instead, the main benefit of virtualization at the edge is in device management.
Virtualization creates a platform for management, which gives admins the ability to monitor and configure instances, track resources, monitor performance and gauge the health of VMs, hosts and systems. If virtualization ends at the data center perimeter, admins must manually monitor and manage edge devices and other non-virtualized equipment, usually with additional tools that might confuse and challenge staff and take time to master. By extending virtualization to edge devices, admins can exercise broad control over those devices using familiar platforms such as VMware ESXi.
For example, if an admin runs a firewall VM on a virtualized network switch appliance, that admin can easily administer the VM, migrate it to another switch appliance or restart the firewall workload in the event of a problem.
But virtualization with established hypervisors, such as ESXi, brings additional benefits beyond management capabilities. For example, ESXi provides isolation, which adds greater security to virtualized devices and applications.
Hypervisors routinely add quality-of-service capabilities to ensure that each VM in a network gets appropriate access to resources while limiting "noisy neighbor" problems; that is, when certain devices monopolize resources and impair the performance of other devices. Virtualizing edge devices offers admins the ability to optimize and tune those devices just like VMs in their data centers.
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