Edge computing moves the open cloud beyond the data center

Edge computing, like public cloud at scale, requires a convenient, powerful cloud software stack that can be deployed in a unified, efficient and sustainable way. Open source is leading the way.
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When we think of cloud computing, most of us envision large-scale, centralized data centers running thousands of physical servers. As powerful as that vision sounds, it actually misses the biggest new opportunity: distributed cloud infrastructure.

Today, almost every company in every industry sector needs near-instant access to data and compute resources to be successful. Edge computing pushes applications, data and computing power services away from centralized data centers to the logical extremes of a network, close to users, devices and sensors. It enables companies to put the right data in the right place at the right time, supporting fast and secure access. The result is an improved user experience and, oftentimes, a valuable strategic advantage. The decision to implement an edge computing architecture is typically driven by the need for location optimization, security, and most of all, speed.

New applications such as VR and AI, with requirements to collect and process massive amounts of data in near-real-time and extremely low latency, are driving the need for processing at the edge of the network. Very simply, the cost and distance of the hub-and-spoke model will not be practical for many of these emerging use cases.

Make no mistake: edge is not the end of cloud computing; it is the natural evolution. As more devices generate more data and more demand for compute and storage, it becomes more efficient to push cloud capacity to the edge.

This was demonstrated at the OpenStack Summit in Boston in May by Beth Cohen, cloud technology strategist at Verizon. Verizon is leveraging OpenStack for its Virtual Network Solutions product, a massively distributed Network-as-a-Service solution, delivered via Verizon’s new universal CPE device, which is about the size of your home router. “OpenStack in a Box,” as Cohen called it, is being used at the edge around the globe to deliver cloud-based services like WAN optimization, security, and routing, with more services in the works.


Telecoms are pioneering edge cloud, and cell towers make an obvious entry point, but many industries including retail and manufacturing are following closely. From robotics-driven warehouses to oil rigs to self-driving cars and hospitals, the use cases are only beginning to be defined. Eventually, your mobile devices will be connecting to mini data centers in your coffee shop or even at the end of your street.


These pioneers are taking several different approaches as they define the technology stack for edge computing. Just like public cloud at scale, edge computing requires a convenient and powerful cloud software stack that can be deployed in a unified, efficient and sustainable way. Whether it’s a mesh or hierarchical architecture and regardless of where the control plane lives, automation is the key, and zero-touch provisioning is the goal. Ultimately, it will be a combination of open source technologies that will drive this wave.

And even as the use of edge computing and private clouds grows, hyperscale public cloud is certainly not going away. We are clearly seeing hybrid as the dominant approach. In fact, the more innovative cases we’ve seen are organizations who are making OpenStack and affiliated open infrastructure technologies work in a small footprint at the edge, while continuing to work with larger-scale OpenStack private and public clouds.

To support many OpenStack users pursuing edge computing, the OpenStack Foundation has been working across industry groups and with other open source communities, including the Open Edge Computing Initiative with Carnegie Mellon and the OPNFV project.

In September, we convened OpenDev, a targeted, two-day working conference—sponsored by Ericsson, Intel and the OpenStack Foundation—to focus on defining the technology stack for edge computing. This event gave users a forum to discuss how different technologies, inside and outside of OpenStack, will work together to achieve this goal. One of the major outcomes of OpenDev is an all-star group of industry experts interested in developing use cases and reference architectures for this emerging tech.

This week at OpenStack Summit Sydney, November 6-8, leaders, innovators, and disruptors within the OpenStack community and broader open infrastructure ecosystem will share edge case studies, discuss practical needs, and put their heads together to innovate and collaboratively address the challenges of edge computing.

Cloud is rapidly expanding to the edge, and open source technology is leading the way. As it does, new opportunities will emerge and new skills and technologies will be needed. The OpenStack community is helping to put all of the open infrastructure pieces in place to make edge computing a reality.

Mark Collier is the Chief Operating Officer of the OpenStack Foundation. He has been involved with OpenStack since its birth within Rackspace, where he served as vice president of business development and corporate development.

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