How edge computing may revamp, revitalize commercial real estate

Edge computing, as well as 5G, will acquire a more distributed network with various points of presence. These points are likely to be housed in existing real estate. Welcome to the mall revitalization effort.

Edge computing: Will it replace or enhance the cloud?

Edge computing will be a key development in 2020, but the far more interesting trend may revolve around how real estate is retooled to enable the technology.

After all, edge computing, as well as 5G, will acquire a more distributed network with various points of presence. These points are likely to be housed in existing real estate.

When Amazon Web Services and Verizon outlined plans to partner on 5G, cloud, and edge computing use cases, it became one more data point in how the technology is also about real estate. The Verizon-AWS partnership revolves around connecting Verizon's facilities to the cloud.

Verizon has the points of presence and facilities. Amazon has the cloud. Applications leveraging the Internet of things, analytics, and autonomous vehicles will require less latency. What's next for data centers? Think micro data centers. Think outposts in a bevy of locations currently devoid of technology. 

Given that reality, it's no surprise that the Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart is exploring ways to rent out edge computing leveraging its retail footprint. Retailers have the locations to actually enable edge computing. 

After all, edge computing is going to require real estate -- a lot more of it. 

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This edge computing as real estate play was a key topic in an interview I had with John Roese, CTO of Dell EMC, last year. We talked edge computing, how the networks would become more distributed, and a lot about real estate. We worked out more on the real estate possibilities than anything else. 

"Use cases like autonomous vehicles will need low latency and to offload compute to nano data centers," said Roese. "There will be higher capacity and compute at the edge."

The big question is, where will this capacity and compute reside. Roese said that big telecoms are in a sweet spot since they have facilities. IT will also be in the real world near the edge. "There's a whole other industry forming with real estate companies, tower owners, and even shopping malls house compute for the edge," said Roese.

In this world, a mall owner like Simon Property Group could house compute infrastructure. Second-tier strip malls would also have a role. Indeed, Equinix, known for its data center network, is already organized as a real estate company. 

There are a lot of loose ends to work out, but these edge compute nodes will actually have to reside somewhere. As a result, real estate investment trusts that revolve around malls could turn some of their portfolio over to tech providers for edge computing. Amazon could leverage its distribution footprint. Walmart could leverage its retail centers. 

Even Billboard companies could house mini data centers with low latency compute along highways. Billboard companies such as Outfront Media, Lamar, and Clear Channel Outdoor today revolve around advertising, but renting space for edge computing would certainly help their bottom lines.  

The edge compute-real estate possibilities are nearly endless, and current players struggling with retail's demise today can reinvent themselves tomorrow. Why? Real estate that's already zoned commercial and multiuse will have an edge compute head start.

It's unclear whether there's a real estate boom related to edge computing in 2020, but the groundwork for a revamped industry will emerge at some point.