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The Middle Mile is the Heart of the Edge | Utilizing Tech 05×08

Between the so-called last mile and first mile lies the middle mile, the realm of colocation and network service providers. This episode of Utilizing Tech features Roy Chua and Allyson Klein, discussing the middle mile with Stephen Foskett. This middle area includes content delivery services like Varnish and Akamai, as well as companies like Cloudflare that are delivering content and compute there. The middle network includes providers like Equinix, Digital Realty, and Megaport, which provide connectivity to the cloud and service providers, the hyperscalers themselves, and some interesting networking startups like Packet Fabric and Graphiant. We must also consider observability, with companies like cPacket and Kentik as well as companies like Cisco and Juniper Networks.

Exploring the Middle Mile and the Edge

The middle edge, also known as the middle mile, presents exciting opportunities for various players such as data center operators, colocation providers, and alternative access vendors. It offers the potential for distributed computing, strategically placing workloads based on factors like latency, compute requirements, and data sovereignty, combining the advantages of proximity and economies of scale.

In the middle edge, a wide range of networking products, content delivery networks (CDNs), and compute capabilities are available to enhance user experience and overcome limitations related to client-side resources and connectivity. CDNs, in particular, have experienced significant growth due to the demands of content consumers. The joint decision-making between compute and networking becomes increasingly important for placement and orchestration in the middle mile. The integration of network awareness by applications and network services adds to the overall interest in the middle edge.

The development of products like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and observability tools is driven by the middle edge. These solutions enable dynamic network reconfiguration, secure connectivity, and improved user experience. Key players in the networking side of the middle edge include co-location providers like Equinix and Digital Realty, CDN providers such as Akamai and CloudFlare, as well as emerging startups focusing on networking and SDN technology.

Observability is gaining importance in distributed computing environments, leading companies like cPacket and Kentik to innovate in this space by providing real-time views of network packet transfer and visibility into internet performance. Networking vendors like Cisco and Juniper are also prioritizing observability, developing product suites to offer visibility and assurance in the middle-edge networking realm. The concept of data and application sovereignty is a significant concern for enterprises in the middle mile, near edge, and far edge environments.

Addressing sovereignty concerns involves tagging workloads with metadata indicating processing locations, leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) for traffic routing constraints, and exploring technologies like confidential computing and secure enclaves. Companies like Cloudflare and others have accelerated the placement of middle-mile compute capabilities to meet customer requirements, considering factors like data sovereignty. Workload placement sophistication and comprehensive understanding of distributed dynamics are essential for maximizing return on investment across deployment options.

Despite being seemingly opposite to the edge, hyperscalers are well positioned to play a role in the middle edge and end points of edge deployments. They are actively collaborating with telco providers and leveraging their software stacks to pivot into edge deployments, focusing on use cases such as content delivery and edge analytics. Hyperscalers have on-premises edge options and are partnering with application infrastructure and database companies. Their strong relationship with developers is crucial, and they are expanding into the edge space while traditional data center ISVs like Cisco and Juniper are also embracing the developer mindset and shifting focus towards modern applications and observability.

The middle mile is not just an extension of the cloud but represents a messy and diverse space where scale and agility are vital. On-prem data centers still have a role to play, and computing decisions depend on the right total cost of ownership (TCO) for customers. The middle mile presents an opportunity for innovation from various companies, including hyperscalers, and fosters broad industry innovation. Exciting developments include small, inexpensive, highly available endpoints and the movement of workloads closer to consumers, resulting in reduced latency, increased flexibility, and new capabilities. Both established incumbents and emerging companies contribute to the evolving landscape of the middle edge.

Podcast Information

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Edge Field Day 2 is being held July 12-13, 2023. Be sure to check out the Tech Field Day website for the schedule and more information.

About the author

Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett is an active participant in the world of enterprise information technology, currently focusing on enterprise storage, server virtualization, networking, and cloud computing. He organizes the popular Tech Field Day event series for Gestalt IT and runs Foskett Services. A long-time voice in the storage industry, Stephen has authored numerous articles for industry publications, and is a popular presenter at industry events. He can be found online at,, and on Twitter at @SFoskett.

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