Vertical Bridge is partnering with its sister company DataBank, a Dallas-based data center provider, to develop micro data centers (MDC) that will host edge computing at the base of cell towers. The two companies’ parent corporation, Digital Bridge, publicly announced the plan to enter data centers back in 2014.
“We see micro data centers as part of the major convergence that is taking place,” said Bernard Borghei, executive vice president of operations and co-founder of Vertical Bridge. “Time was needed for technology to catch up, and the carriers needed to understand the benefits of this approach.”
Vertical Bridge and DataBank are interviewing a dozen or so companies that are potential technology partners, analyzing deployment strategies, management teams and partnership goals.
“Tower-based data centers bring the cloud into local areas and dovetail with the emerging cloud RAN architecture of the future,” Borghei said.
With the 5G standard set to come out in 2020, carriers are more focused than ever on the broadband speeds and ultra-low latency that will be needed to make the next generation of wireless a reality.
“The deployment of 5G is getting closer and closer, and people are realizing that broadband speeds and ultra-low latency are going to be critical aspects of 5G. In order to make IoT, AR, VR, etc. happen, edge computing must come to fruition. We feel the industry is ready to listen to the concept of micro data centers,” Borghei said.
While much smaller than a typical data center, an MDC allows computing to be pushed to the edge of the network and nearer the user, similar to the relationship of a small cell to a macrocell tower.
“When you reduce the distance and introduce localize computing, you reduce the amount of computer processing at farther distances away and the time traveled to get the data from the wireless device through the backbone network, to the Internet and back. That is how a micro data center allows you to achieve that speed and ultra-low latency,” Borghei said.
What is a Micro Data Center?
Basically, an MDC is a room full of computer servers, possibly 20 feet by 20 feet, and no taller than an equipment shelter. Along with the space, a tower company would need power for the equipment and the HVAC system and adequate fiber access. As with towers, the siting of an MDC depends on the network design, geographic location and surrounding population.
“If you had 20-30 towers in a geographic area, you could end up with seven to eight MDCs as traffic grows. It will come to that,” Borghei said. “It needs to be scalable for future expansion, if more tenants need to be accommodated. We are looking for the technology partner with the best processing capability, capacity, scalability and ease of deployment. We are in the first generation, but it has a lot of promise.”
Edge Computing Use Cases
Why do the wireless carriers want edge computing? There are many reasons to put a data center at the base of a tower and many more that haven’t been thought up yet. Tailored content could be stored in the MDC for the geographic area that it is serving. NetFlix could push its most popular movies to the edge. Time-sensitive connected/autonomous car applications could be placed near “smart corridors” of rush hour traffic.
Data Center Knowledge, an industry publication, reports that AT&T is looking at MDCs to support a variety of applications such as data analytics using information from industrial sensors devices like virtual reality headsets.
J. Sharpe Smith is 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.