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EdgeMicro Launches No-Cost Testing Environment for Edge Implementations

EdgeMicro is launching a Proof-of-Concept Program that will enable companies to accelerate their timeline for proving the viability, scalability and performance of their edge computing pilot projects. Companies seeking to test low-latency applications that take advantage of edge-located data cache and compute services can apply to utilize a no-cost testing environment in an EdgeMicro data center that is dedicated to these pilot projects.

“All companies seeking success at the edge recognize near-zero latency can only be achieved by placing their IT hardware and services closer to the consumer. These companies include content providers, wireless companies, IoT and other service providers. While each company delivers unique value, they all have a common challenge: the hurdles of cost and speed to market are too high,” said Mike Hagan, CEO of EdgeMicro.

The testing environment is in a secure, fully-redundant 48 kW EdgeMicro data center in Denver and is supported by key partners including Megaport, Fiber Mountain and BitBox. Customer testing will commence November 1, 2018 with a target end date of February 2019.

“This program gives companies much more than a testing environment,” said Josh Snowhorn, chief strategy officer. “Selected participants will be among the first to leverage EdgeMicro’s ETX (Edge Traffic Exchange), a distributed micro internet exchange program designed for mobile interconnectivity.”


Cell Towers Will Serve as Micro Data Centers in Low-latency Networks

By Don Bishop, Exec. Editor, Assoc. Publisher, AGL Magazine

EdgeMicro is rolling out dozens of micro data centers at cell tower sites across the country to move the most popular cloud content and services closer to end users. The use of micro data centers at cell tower sites greatly reduces latency and makes cell towers the front lines of how web-based services get delivered to consumers.

EdgeMicro’s CEO, Mike Hagan, spoke with AGL eDigest at the Connectivity Expo, Connect (x), conducted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association in Charlotte, North Carolina.

AGL eDigest: How does the placement of micro data centers at cell tower sites reduce latency?
Hagan:I’m so glad you’re asking about latency because it is a huge pain point for everyone involved in delivering mobile access to the internet, including both wireless companies and content providers. In fact, the problem is getting worse as consumers and corporate end users look to do more and more via mobile devices that utilize LTE networks.

To answer your question, let’s look at how content and computing services are delivered to wireless devices via cell networks today. Let’s say you are a consumer who wants to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones on your phone. Today, that episode lives in a centralized data center that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from the end user. That would be fine if data truly travelled at the speed of light, but the reality is that delivering the packets to a viewer from that central data center involves sending traffic over a variety of networks, across multiple hops, through a long line of switches and gateways (many of which are outdated and which therefore create bottlenecks) until the content finally arrives at the cell tower.

EdgeMicro’s model is to place our micro data centers close to end users, including at the base of the cell towers at thousands of sites in the U.S. and across the globe. That eliminates the latency-killing hops and stops over hundreds or thousands of miles. We are also deeply engaged with the biggest-name highest-traffic content providers in the industry, which will populate our data centers with the content users demand most. And all of that traffic is coordinated by our patent-pending Tower Traffic Exchange IP translation solution in each data center. That allows direct connection from the cell radio to the content, which enables traffic to get to end users even faster. The end result is that we effectively deliver zero latency at the mobile edge, which allows all mobile connected devices to become faster.

AGL eDigest: What is driving the need for data centers at the edge?
Hagan: It’s a perfect storm of several factors that are compounding one another. One of the biggest is that consumers are using their smartphones as a primary device for entertainment, whether that is streamed video, streamed music, live sports and more. That is an enormous amount of data that is being delivered from centralized data centers out to consumers via LTE networks. The trend is only going to grow as the MNOs deploy 5G over the coming years. The consumer’s expectations for speed is elevating. They will demand instant, no-latency access to that regardless of what device they utilize and what kind of network it is delivered by. The demands and pressures MNOs face to deliver are significant, and EdgeMicro helps wireless companies serve their customers more efficiently in a very cost-effective way.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the need to deliver at the edge is urgent now. It’s not just a problem down the road. It’s already something MNOs and content providers need to be solving. And it will intensify over time, accelerating with the massive implementation of the internet of things and upgrades to 5G. These trends are not going away. They are only going to grow as consumers and companies rely more and more on wirelessly-connected devices. It’s important to point out that the use of large centralized data centers will not go away. But they cannot serve the consumer at the edge efficiently. Moving content closer to the consumer is the core solution for improving latency.

However, it is not all about latency. We must look at backhaul too, because that is the other problem that MNOs and content providers are struggling with. The current backhaul infrastructure was not designed to support this kind of volume, which is why moving content to the edge is so important. That is the best way to lower or delay the cost of new fiber installations, and it is the only way to reduce the skyrocketing backhaul costs for companies delivering content and services to end users. If we get this right, MNOs may not have to spend as many billions of dollars as planned on backhaul infrastructure. Moving content to the base or the tower and connecting to consumers locally is a wining solution for everyone.

AGL eDigest: Who are the customers for the micro data center equipment? Wireless carriers, tower owners, others or a combination?
Hagan: EdgeMicro’s approach is unique because we are not simply selling a box to companies that want to go to the edge. To us, we think the idea of MNOs and content providers building out their own edge micro data centers doesn’t make technical sense or business sense. We believe the capital expense is too high and the speed of deployment will be too slow.

We also believe that going individual companies going it alone creates risks they just don’t have to take. And then there are the practical issues like: How do you fit multiple edge data centers at a cell tower if every wireless provider and content provider has their own facility? Do individual companies want to manage the contrition process and operations and maintenance requirements of thousands of remote data centers? Every company has the same goal in mind: to get to the edge as quickly as possible. I believe working collectively and solving problems together is the key for everyone’s success and, most importantly, making the consumers experience at the mobile edge the best it can be.

EdgeMicro’s model is to bring all of the major players together in a common environment that doesn’t require them to build on their own. We keep it simple by using a highly proven model called colocation. We provide space, power, cooling and use the same interconnection model was that was the foundation of land based broadband boom of the last two decades. Our vision for the industry is to get everyone to the edge in fast, cost effectively while minimizing risk.

AGL eDigest: How are target cell sites selected for the micro data centers?
Hagan: I will avoid too much detail here for competitive reasons. The simple answer is we are working with all key stake holders in the edge ecosystem to deliver our colocation and interconnection services to the most target rich environments in the United States. We have the best team to get this right. This is where we believe experience and relationships really count.

AGL eDigest: How well do micro data centers fit at cell sites?
Hagan: Space is definitely an issue at many cell tower sites, so we have factored that into our design so that it works not only at cell towers but in many other locations where space is at a premium. Our micro data centers are 20 feet long by 8.5 feet wide and are designed in a way that works with anywhere: towers, fiber junction points, outside central offices, parking lots and rooftops. We can deploy anywhere.
The biggest issue that must be addressed is available power. We spent a significant amount of time studying the space to get this right. The industry average per rack in the colocation space is 7 kilowatts, so that is what we designed to. Edge sites are not only size-restricted but can be power-restricted, so getting the power aspect is important. Upgrading utility to serve a microdata center is costly and time consuming, so our approach works with what is typically available at a tower site, allowing us to move as quickly as our customers want us to.

AGL eDigest: With all the talk about small cells, how much does the use of cell tower sites for micro data centers increase the importance of cell tower sites and perhaps increase the likelihood that their usefulness will be extended?
Hagan: We are very excited to see the investment in DAS, small cells, 5G additional towers and the fiber network to make the edge work and the consumer happy. We are in a great space, and a new and powerful ecosystem is being created by all of the companies making these investments to better serve customers. When it comes to mobile access to the internet, the key principle that all the parties need to rally around is simple: moving content as close as possible to end users is the best way to reduce latency and serve their needs. It’s all about reducing the distance that data has to travel in order to get from where it lives to where end users want to consume it. Everyone working at the edge has a stake in accomplishing that, and it benefits everyone in the ecosystem because all of that real estate becomes more sticky and more valuable to the owner in the process.

Don Bishop
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletinemail newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: [email protected]

Edge Computing Could Help Both Carriers, Tower Owners

By J. Sharpe Smith

Edge computing is becoming part of the network conversation as more companies go public with their solutions for wireless communications. Placing data center infrastructure, i.e. content, at the edge of the network will give immediate access to the internet to billions of mobile devices, such as smartphones, medical devices, industrial controls and IoT sensors.

But that vision of the future goes out a few years.

What carriers need right now is a way to cut their backhaul costs which have risen because of the increased traffic caused by unlimited data plans, Greg Pettine, founder and EVP of business development, said in a phone interview with AGL eDigest.

“The [carriers] know that if they can get some of the content out beyond their core data centers out to the wireless edge, they can significantly maintain their operating expenses regarding fiber to the tower. That’s big,” Pettine said.

Also important to today’s carrier operations is the performance of the network, which can be negatively affected by traffic congestion. “The [carriers] have admitted to throttling back users of certain applications, such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon,” Pettine said. “This results in churn, which they don’t want to happen.”

EdgeMicro’s answer to the traffic congestion problem is to locate the data from these websites in a micro datacenter positioned at the cell site or a central office or a mobile telephone switching office. Then, when a data request comes into the tower, the system redirects it to the micro datacenter to get the data, instead of backhauling it to the regional data center.

The organizations may take advantage of storing data in a micro datacenter because they are the ones driving the most content across the internet. Those companies including Facebook with Facebook Live; Instagram; Google with YouTube, Akamai Technologies, which is used by the ad networks; Amazon and Netflix.

Data traffic in EdgeMicro’s network-neutral micro data centers is managed by a technology known as Tower Traffic Xchange (TTX), which is a Local IPAccess (LIPA) solution that combines all the necessary LTE network components into a single, low-power, collocated appliance.

EdgeMicro gave a preview of its TTX and micro data center at the Competitive Carriers Association’s (CCA) Annual Convention earlier this year in Fort Worth.

The company’s medium-term plan is to deploy at 500 tower sites in the next five years. First, 30 micro datacenters will be deployed at busy multi-tenant towers that serve 100,000 people in the next 18 months in tier-two cities, which don’t have a lot of backhaul, content or ISP peering.

“That will provide us with the data to proliferate our micro datacenters,” Pettine said. “EdgeMicro’s prefabricated micro data centers will be deployed at ultimately thousands of cell towers globally.”

EdgeMicro’s collocation model is based on an 8-foot by 20-foot container with six racks. A quarter rack would be sold to each content provider, which works out to 24 customers in each container.

“We are in various stages with the [carriers], introducing it into their labs for testing. Ultimately, they need to start field test the acquisition of data,” Pettine said.

Micro Datacenters: Good for Towers?

What is in it for tower companies? Providing micro datacenters will make towers stickier, reducing carrier churn. Tower companies would make good strategic partners and could fund the effort as an alternative cash flow.

“Tower companies get increased rent and have the potentially to be strategically aligned in bringing in innovative cash flow,” Pettine said, “But they don’t know anything about data centers and that is where we come in. We understand the collocation model from a datacenter perspective: the cost-to-build and opex.”

Tower companies have already shown an interest in micro datacenters. For example, Crown  Castle International is a minor investor in Vapor IO, whose Project Volutus enables cloud providers, wireless carriers and web-scale companies to deliver cloud-based edge computing applications via a network of micro data centers deployed at the base of cell tower sites.

“The cloud of the future will extend past today’s large, centralized data centers. The next generation cloud will follow your car. It will follow your phone. It will follow your sensors. It will be distributed and data driven and everywhere,” Alan Bock, vice president of corporate development & strategy, Crown Castle.

Vertical Bridge announced in late September that it has partnered with its sister company DataBank to host edge computing at the base of cell towers. Additionally, AT&T has announced it also has micro datacenter plans.

One pundit has claimed that the Cloud is “dead.” While that may be an overstatement, the global market for micro data centers is certainly alive and projected to be $8.47 billion by 2022, according to a report on MarketstoMarkets Research.

J. Sharpe Smith and the senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: [email protected].