It takes dozens, if not hundreds, of edge nodes to create the network effect hyperscalers and content delivery services require to earn revenue from the push to the edge.
Placing micro data centers (MDCs) closer to consumers and enterprises improves performance and thus, customer experience for applications such as ultra-high-definition video, immersive technologies, collaboration tools and cloud gaming, according to Greg Pettine, cofounder at the edge collocation company EdgeMicro. He spoke on Jan. 30 at the AGL Local Summit in Seattle.
Companies such as EdgeMicro find it essential to partner with wireless infrastructure companies to scale edge computing, Pettine said. “Unless we can get hundreds of these nodes out there,” he said, “this is not interesting to anyone in the ecosystem, not the tower operators or our investors and, more importantly, the customer. When a network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases according to the number of others using it.”
— Greg Pettine, cofounder at EdgeMicro
Photo by Don Bishop
The business of edge computing is in the early innings, Pettine said. He said he expects it will become easier as more micro data centers are activated and the stakeholders experience the value in distributing high-performance apps to a national audience. “But the inertia is strong, and we need your help,” he said.
Pettine said that as EdgeMicro made plans for installing MDCs in its first 10 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (regions with high population densities at their cores), it looked for cities outside the top interconnected (known as “peering”) markets of New York; Miami; Atlanta; Dallas; Los Angeles; Seattle; Chicago; Ashburn, Virginia; and the Silicon Valley. “The experience for most users in these Tier 1 peering cities is very good,” he said. “However, performance degrades relatively quickly as you move to where 70 percent of the population resides, outside of these markets.”
What EdgeMicro would call underserved interconnect markets include NFL cities such as Denver; Houston; Tampa, Florida; San Diego; Cleveland; Minneapolis; St. Louis and Phoenix. He suggested there could be as many as 75 MSAs large enough to entice the hyperscale companies and content delivery network (CDN) operators to deploy in these markets.
Thus, Pettine said, when EdgeMicro sends requests for information (RFIs) to wireless infrastructure owners, the company is not looking at rural areas. Instead, the company is looking in and around urban corridors with a high density of eyeballs, both consumer and enterprise.
The compounds EdgeMicro prefers are either leased or owned, Pettine said, because the company has found managed sites to be problematic. When EdgeMicro started looking at what is required to obtain permits in managed sites, it has proved to be difficult, he said.
The leased or owned compounds EdgeMicro considers require 800 square feet of ground space per micro data center. The company uses purpose-built, 12-foot by 30-foot prefabricated modules and, Pettine said, the company likes to have enough space for two or three. However, with compounds in urban areas it can be difficult to obtain 1,000 to 3,000 square feet, Pettine said, because tower operators already make considerable profit renting space to multiple carriers on highly used assets.
“We have to go through a lot of options with tower operators to find compounds that could give us that kind of space,” Pettine said. “Also, we need to have fiber on-net to these compounds or adjacent in the street. [On-net buildings have fiber-optic cable service from network service providers that physically built the connectivity with fiber that they own.] In most cases, tower operators have fiber to their towers, but generally, it only consists of two to four strands, which do not offer nearly enough bandwidth. Then, we micro-trench from the MDC out to the property line and work with carriers that have assets in the street to splice into our point of entry. That’s what we do; we’re not expecting anyone else to do that work. The point is, we have to go through a lot of sites to find ones that can work.”
Pettine said that obtaining sufficient electrical power usually is not the long pole in the tent [the most critical or time-consuming task]. He said each MDC only requires 600-ampere electrical service. That type of electrical service usually is available, he said, and when it is not, a utility usually can upgrade the service quickly.
Getting the infrastructure out there will drive the use cases, Pettine said, referring to use cases as specific situations in which a product or service potentially could be used. “Once we get to the scale of 100 or more nodes with strong connectivity, smart people in the edge ecosystem will figure out what to do with that infrastructure,” he said. “Obviously, you have to have some use cases to begin with to pay the rent and to continue to scale. But live infrastructure at scale will drive use cases to support 5G wireless communications for years to come.”
Of the two ways to connect with the internet, Pettine said, the cable companies providing wired connections appear to be the most nimble and easiest to work with. The mobile network operators (MNOs) offering wireless connectivity have been slow to share network resources and prefer a walled-garden approach, he said.
The Wireline Challenge
Pettine said that EdgeMicro is facilitating discussions with cable companies and the hyperscalers (what he called the FAANGs) to talk about what they need, including the types of services and architecture to get to the cable aggregation routers. [FAANG refers to five technology companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet (formerly known as Google).]
After working on placing micro data centers for almost four years, Pettine said it is surprising that discussions of network requirements among companies such as Cloudflare, Charter and Comcast are not taking place. “We’re helping to facilitate that,” he said.
The challenge for edge services companies is to have the cable companies extend connections everywhere the MDCs are placed. “The cable companies that you know do not really compete with one another,” Pettine said. “They separate their regions. Their real competition is from the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) or incumbent telcos offering digital subscriber line (DSL) services, which have been slow to act. We hope that getting the cable companies connected will force the telecos to also connect or remain at a notable competitive disadvantage.”
The Wireless Challenge
Dealing with mobile network operators (MNOs) represents a challenge, Pettine said. He said the MNOs missed out on the cloud, getting outflanked by the hyperscalers. With 5G wireless communications service representing a new opportunity for MNOs to earn revenue from their subscribers, Pettine said they are embarking on a walled-garden approach that restricts the range of information to which subscribers of a particular service are limited.
An example Pettine gave is AT&T partnering with Microsoft and Verizon, teaming up with Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Their initial deployments are leveraging their massive real estate portfolios by converting central offices to edge sites,” he said. “However, once again, they are proving to be too big and too slow to scale effectively.”
The Microsoft and AWS partnerships are not exclusive, Pettine said, adding that “it’s going to continue to be problematic until these hyperscalers see that companies like EdgeMicro can scale a heck of a lot faster than Big Mobile. Then they’ll start putting pressure on the MNOs to partner and share infrastructure with us all, essentially, opening up the walled garden into a cooperative, friendly landscape. I’m very optimistic that this is going to happen.”