For telcos and enterprise vendors, MWC 2017 will be an Edge/Fog/SDN/NFV-fest
Compute and storage is coming out of the core and into the light
Mobile World Congress kicks off next week in Barcelona and, as ever, is two shows in one. Gadget-lovers get to go “squee!” about new handsets and the fun they'll have with them. And in the fun and important part of the conference, telco wonks discuss the plumbing that makes the “squee!” possible.
And this year the fun and important part of the conference looks like having a lot to say about Edge computing, fog computing, software-defined networking and network function virtualization.
It's a good time for the show to consider those matters, because serious momentum is gathering around standards and products. This week alone we've seen Intel reveal 16-core atoms and a new Xeon-D, both designed to run virtual machines in appliances that run beyond the data centre, while Cisco is turning some of its core products into software to run on the edge.
Dell will be at the show spruiking its capable-of-running-outdoors micro data centres. It's not alone in that ambition: The Register has chatted to startup Vapor IO, which also offers outdoor data centres plus a management suite for the kit therein, and it's cooked up a version of those offerings for telcos to use at mobile phone base stations.
There's plenty more to come – your correspondent's inbox is groaning with imminent announcements.
They're in there because the increasing presence of computing well beyond the data centre means organisations have to weigh the cost of data transit vs. the likely value of rigorous data analysis.
To understand why, consider what Cisco's chief technology officer for Australia Kevin Bloch calls a “heavy” Internet of Things device – something like a wind turbine with lots of sensors on board. That turbine produces lots of data deserving of real-time analysis and therefore intolerant of latency that comes with a trek to a cloud. Because most of such data is noise, not signal, it is also unworthy of the transit costs of moving it all back to a data centre. Wind farms, or just a group of turbines, therefore deserve a bit of processing power so that sensor output can be considered in just-about-real-time. If that pre-analysis suggests something worthy of deeper consideration, then you release it to the data centre.
But because few incidents are going to need to go all the way to the data centre, it's not going to be worth investing in fat pipes capable of sending it there. Nor will it be worth paying for a dedicated WAN optimisation appliance, or full-time licence for that service.
Instead, it will make sense to make use of those services as a service.
Which is why the edge of telco networks is now being considered as a target for some storage and compute.
Telcos like this. For years they've suffered as over-the-top operators reduce them to dumb pipes. Now they see the chance to talk to a wind farm operator and tell them about the clutch of pole-top servers they can rent and spawn a WAN optimisation VM into, to handle their occasional spurts of heavyweight data. They'll also create a micro-segmented network to secure that traffic, along with a virtual firewall. All the wind farm operator, or the operator of lighter Internet of Things devices, will need to do is sign up for services.
These ideas can help with consumer applications too. To understand why, consider that punters are now punishing mobile networks by doing things like watching Netflix on mobile devices. Telcos have years-long relationships with customers but just can't up-sell them to stickier and higher-margin services like Netflix. But the video streamer has similar problems to the wind farm operator: transit costs money and should be avoided. If telcos could help out by putting that new series of Stranger Things closer to users, closer even than a content delivery network, that could be handy.
Doing all this isn't easy: spawning a WAN optimisation VM and a virtual firewall many times a day will need software-defined networks to reach devices on the edge, plus servers that can stay alive in rain, hail and shine while facing stern I/O challenges, without complicating an infrastructure stack. Which is why David Siroky, director of solutions and alliances from Dell EMC’s Infrastructure Solutions Group told The Register the company has common parts across it server and hyperconverged products for conventional and edge data centres.
We'll also need ways to have all those bits of a stack interact to get the job done.
These efforts are under way. Software companies with expertise managing packaged workloads will explain their position next week. And earlier this month the OpenFog Consortium released its first reference architecture (PDF).
That document explains Fogs as follows:
“Fog computing is an extension of the traditional cloud-based computing model where implementations of the architecture can reside in multiple layers of a network’s topology. However, all the benefits of cloud should be preserved with these extensions to fog, including containerization, virtualization, orchestration, manageability, and efficiency.”
The announcements we've reference above show that this stuff is going to be the subject of plenty of talk at MWC: the companies we mentioned are trying to get a head-start on what will be a busy and noisy week, especially once the “squee!” about promised new handsets starts.
But carriers will be more interested in how they can add value to those handsets and other devices. And data centre infrastructure suppliers are even more interested in how they can help telcos to add that value, if only because this is another huge opportunity to find very large and very sticky customers. ®
Bootnote: If you go to Barcelona for the show and fancy the trip will offer a chance to tuck into some Catalan nosh made by super-chefs the Adria brothers, give up now: their restaurants are booked well in advance. But at the suburban and family-friendly Casa De Tapas Cañota the meatballs come in a sauce devised by Albert Adria.