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Edge Computing in the Wireless Infrastructure World

By Don Bishop

Marc Ganzi, president and CEO of DigitalBridge Group; and Matt Niknam, director of equity research and communications infrastructure analyst at Deutsche Bank

Edge computing has two aspects and three sizes, according to Marc Ganzi, president and CEO of DigitalBridge Group, which has 23 portfolio companies, including several that are involved with edge computing. According to American web infrastructure and security company Cloudfare, edge computing optimizes internet devices and web applications by bringing computing closer to the source of the data. Edge computing minimizes the need for long-distance communications between client and server, which reduces latency and bandwidth use, as stated by Cloudfare.

Within the DigitalBridge portfolio, companies that provide data centers, optical fiber connectivity, macro cell towers and edge infrastructure have roles to play in edge computing.

Of the two aspects of edge computing, Ganzi said, one is the physical aspect of where infrastructure sits. The second part, he said, is the experience, how the customer ultimately participates in a low-latency environment and how its applications work. He said the two functions are consumer and geography.

Edge Infrastructure Layers

“Let’s start with geography,” Ganzi said, in speaking about edge computing with Matt Niknam, director of equity research and communications infrastructure analyst at Deutsche Bank, during the bank’s 29th annual Leveraged Finance Conference on Oct. 4. “Geography is pretty easy to understand, because there are three layers to edge infrastructure: main edge workloads, mid-range and micro edge,” he said.

“Main edge workloads are secondary and tertiary markets, where you’re not in a primary hyperscale market, as in Ashburn, Virginia; or Goodyear, Arizona; or some of the other big areas such as Atlanta, where you have massive, hundreds of megawatts of power and compute,” Ganzi said. “And then you go to you go outside of that for what’s happening in markets like Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; Cleveland; and Minneapolis. These are good edge markets.”

The main edge workloads, Ganzi said, range from half-megawatt to 4-megawatt workloads in secondary and tertiary markets. He said that one of DigitalBridge’s portfolio companies, Databank, is providing such service every day. He said that Databank is delivering and fulfilling the main edge workload need for hyperscalers as they continue to deploy and densify their infrastructure in secondary and tertiary markets. According to manufacturer NAI Group, a hyperscaler is a data center that can add or reduce computing power quickly and cost-effectively. Market research firm International Data Corporation defines hyperscale computing as exceeding 5,000 servers and 10,000 square feet.

According to Ganzi, mid-range edge computing are special, purpose-built data centers between 5,000 and 20,000 square feet that most often are built in suburban locations. He gave as an example Somerset, New Jersey, that he said is neither a secondary nor a tertiary market. “That’s a suburb of New York,” he said.

In such suburban locations, Ganzi said, “you’ll have either a repurposed central office or a small data center. In there, you’ll have aggregation points of radios; you’ll have a small presence from the cloud players — maybe two to three racks — and then you’ll have adjacent content players there. That’s what I would call a true edge out workload, where you’re out in the suburbs and you’re trying to execute the main thesis of their business plan, which is to increase the throughput out to the suburbs, but reduce latency.”

The third layer to edge computing in the aspect of geography, Ganzi said, is the micro edge. He said DigitalBridge supplies micro edge computing through its portfolio company EdgePresence. DigitalBridge made its investment in EdgePresence through Databank. He described EdgePresence managers as great entrepreneurs.

Micro Edge

“They really understand the business,” Ganzi said. “We have 12 micro edge locations, most of them at Vertical Bridge towers. We built at a couple at other towercos’ sites.”

EdgePresence housed the micro data centers in repurposed intermodal shipping containers, Ganzi said.

“We have anywhere from 10 to 20 racks in those containers,” he said. “We’re getting lease rates that are effectively a half of a broadband equivalent (BBE) for a rack. We’re leasing compute space at the base of cell towers.”

Ganzi said he wanted to be clear with investors, so he emphasized that placing edge micro centers would not happen at every cell tower.

“You don’t need an edge data center at the bottom of every cell tower,” he said. “You probably need one at one out of 100. We started trial testing this in Atlanta.” Ganzi said that Atlanta was a test market for the EdgePresence micro data centers.

“What’s great is that we’re doing all three,” Ganzi said, referring to the three layers of edge computing. He said that another DigitalBridge portfolio company, AtlasEdge Data Centres, in Europe, is using many previous Liberty Global central offices in a project to run more than 100 edge data centers on the continent. “We’re renovating them, putting in edge infrastructure,” he said.

Databank is doing massive edge workloads in places such as places like Bluffdale, Utah; Overland Park, Kansas; and Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Ganzi said. “Then, in Atlanta with EdgePresence, we’re building micro data centers,” he said.

“So, the three layers, right?” Ganzi said. “You go way out to a half-megawatt to 4 megawatts, then you get into a zone with 10 to 20 racks, and then you get to the micro edge, which is literally a couple of racks that are based at the tower. The network begins to move out, but you can take the network down to a very surgical level and deliver edge computing.”

In explaining that the objective is all about what the customer wants, Ganzi said that the customers in this instance are Amazon, Microsoft and Google. In addition, he said customers in the United States include the four major mobile carriers. More customers include the internet-of-things players, he said.

“It’s trying to make sure that we’re delivering a high-powered high compute experience on the periphery of the network, ultimately, to serve consumers,” Ganzi said. “This is totally consumer-facing, because most of the edge compute in an enterprise environment is going to happen in the bottoms of office buildings where we build out small edge data centers in the basements of office buildings as we light up enterprise CBRS.”


Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.