The majority of network convergence activity evolves because of edge data computing center deployment as demand for data shifts away from centralized hyper locations to local processing capability, according to the AGL Virtual Summit panel, “Network Convergence: 5G Infrastructure & Trends,” held Nov. 12. Jeff Lewis, president of Verticom, moderated the session, which included Alex Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge; and Scott Willis, president and CEO of DartPoints.
“The use of a few central hyper data center locations cannot sustain our future, which is what edge compute is all about,” said Willis. “It’s about bringing that capability out to those locations where demand can be processed and stored right there in that market.” DartPoints, as the owner and operator of carrier-neutral edge data center facilities, is looking to provide interconnection and peering capabilities in underserved markets.
But where is the edge? The panelists agreed that no single point in a network will be defined as the edge, and that several business models will succeed.
“Edge data centers are in their infancy,” Lewis said. “There won’t be a single business model that solves everything. We have to push processing out as far as possible.”
Gellman said a couple of narratives may play out. One is that edge compute will be placed only at the bases of towers. The other is that the edge will be placed wherever there is fiber. He said because many towers do not have room for a data center shelter, he leans toward the fiber scenario, but it depends on the use case and the customers. Vertical Bridge’s parent company, Digital Colony, owns DataBank and Vantage Data Centers (North America).
“Edge compute is deploying on Vertical Bridge’s real estate,” Gellman said. “Not necessarily at our towers, but at office buildings and retail centers. Edge will go where the fiber is. Plus, there has to be security, power and room for the data centers.”
Willis agreed that fiber is the “blood line” of hyper computer centers today, and it will not change with the edge. He said success requires local, regional and national players to develop a solution at the edge.
“As for DartPoints, we look at where the fiber is congregated,” Willis said. “Where is the optimal location where you can provide interconnect and peering?”
Willis said DartPoints divides the edge market into four segments. “The first is the carrier. Whether it is a local, regional or national fiber provider. It is an important customer segment that enables the entire platform to be successful,” he said. “Second is the ecosystem of partners that DartPoint brings in that will enable it to provide interconnect and peering capability for that market. The third segment is content distribution network providers that are looking to interconnect and peer. The fourth is the local enterprise that needs to reach out locally and globally.”
Gellman noted the irony that it is 5G wireless communications service that receives all the advertising hype but that has less-defined use cases, while edge computing is comparatively unknown but has a full ecosystem ready and waiting.
Lewis said, “Edge data centers have raced ahead of 5G because they have a valid use case and 5G proponents have yet to prove the return on investment. Everything we have seen in the last 12 months is directed at pushing more fiber and more process power to the edge.”
Gellman said he believes that wireless carriers will become customers, eventually. “One of the more exciting examples is Dish, which has said it wants to power its network through edge compute locations, instead of the traditional MTSO [mobile telephone switching office] structure.” Gellman also sees various enterprise customers, such as big box retailers, emerging as customers for edge data centers.
Gellman said the return on investment case for edge data centers is clear and simple. Deploying at the edge brings the advantage of lower latency and lower transport costs.
“The reason an edge data center is deployed in certain location is because that is where the intersection of low latency and low transport cost meet and makes sense,” he said. “We are seeing real edge centers with real edge customers. Over time, the number of customers and the locations they need for edge data centers is going to explode.”
Gellman said the business model of edge data centers is a natural fit for tower companies because it is similar to the tower model.
“We view an edge data center as a tower site without the tower, and it is faster and easier and is less expensive to deploy,” he said. “It requires a parcel of land, either owned or leased, in a particular location, which must have fiber. That is critical. Sometimes they want redundant fiber. It needs a shelter, and it needs to be secure. We are just the landlord. We’ll get the land, zone and permit it, pay the property taxes, and rent it to the edge data company, like DartPoints.”
To view a replay of the Nov. 12 AGL Virtual Summit, CLICK HERE