When it comes to data, the center of gravity is moving from the network core to the edge. This shift is due to new, interactive applications that must run at the edge to perform as intended. On the consumer side, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), connected vehicles, and immersive gaming are emerging onto the scene. On the industry side, 5G has made the use of collaborative robots, drone fleets and digital twins a reality.
These apps produce an enormous amount of data. How enormous? Consider a set of sensors monitoring a complex piece of machinery can generate terabytes of data each day. It's easy to imagine an entire factory generating petabytes (or, a million gigabytes) of data per month. The Internet as it’s built today, from the core out, cannot handle this volume of data. If we want to see these new applications flourish, we need a new Internet. One that is built from the edge in.
What Is the Edge?
Edge computing brings compute, network and storage closer to where data is created and consumed (versus sending it back to a cloud or centralized data center for processing). This is important when speed and latency are non-negotiable. Like when sensors on an autonomous car collect and analyze data to predict the vehicle’s next move.
Running an application at the edge may also appease certain privacy and security concerns. Retailers, for example, use smart surveillance apps to learn about customers’ shopping behaviors and provide them with a more personalized shopping experience. A facial recognition app can identify you (and your purchase history) when you walk into a store. It can then signal for in-store digital signage to change as you move through the store, so the ads are more relevant to you. In this scenario, keeping customer purchase and biometric data close to the store location limits some privacy and security risk.
What exactly makes up “the edge”? It’s hard to say.
Kaniz Mahdi, vice president of Distributed Edge at VMware, explained the edge conundrum quite succinctly, “The list of interactive applications enabled by distributed edge computing keeps getting longer. And yet, when we look closely at many of them, we reach an unavoidable conclusion: There is no single location for the edge. It’s nowhere, but everywhere.”
Complexity at the edge makes building a next-generation Internet quite a challenge.
The Case for an Open Grid
The future of the Internet is a topic many technology leaders are pondering, including Cole Crawford, CEO of edge infrastructure company Vapor IO.
He commented, “The old expression, ‘what got us here won’t get us there’ applies for where we are headed as a species. We are not going to get to the promises of 5G or beyond if we don’t start thinking about changing the architecture of the Internet and identifying what we can do today to make it better.”
He envisions an evolution of the Internet where it becomes a global, shared platform – an Open Grid – that distributes compute, data, and intelligence to when and where it’s needed, on demand.
What will the world look like as the Internet evolves to an Open Grid? Let’s consider an example.
Imagine attending a game at your favorite team’s stadium. Only this time, the team owner has installed several new immersive experiences throughout the venue. Connected wristbands to make entering the stadium and paying for concessions as easy as a flick of the wrist. VR headsets that display real-time player statistics as you watch them run, jump, catch and throw in front of your eyes. In-stadium mobile apps that encourage engagement between fans as they watch their team emerge victorious.
These experiences require tremendous amounts of compute power and network bandwidth – but only in the few hours when fans pack into the stadium. With an Open Grid in place, the applications can request the resources they require so everything runs precisely on the days and times, and in the places, for which they are needed.
A Path Forward
Rearchitecting the Internet so it can power the applications that will drive how we interact and work together is a profoundly important task. Perhaps one of the most important tasks we face as a society. It will require the best and brightest to come together and collaborate on solutions. To get us to this future faster, Mahdi and Crawford spearheaded the creation of the Open Grid Alliance (OGA), an industry alliance that aims to define and accelerate the Open Grid.
Crawford explained, “The vision of the Open Grid Alliance is too grand to be achieved by a single technology provider. The Open Grid will only emerge from deep industry collaborations, and that’s why we formed the alliance. We and our industry partners plan to accelerate a decades-long journey of innovation at all levels of the stack.”
The Open Grid Alliance will work to forge partnerships between technology vendors, enterprises, academic institutions and technology foundations to advance Open Grid technologies. VMware and Vapor IO are joined by Dell Technologies, DriveNets, MobiledgeX, and PacketFabric, Crown Castle, CBRE and many others as founding members.
Together, these members will deploy Open Grid innovation zones in major cities to implement reference architectures that incorporate all levels of the stack, from real estate to applications. Ultimately, through this work, the Open Grid will become a cloud-neutral and carrier-neutral edge that is universally accessible and widely distributed. The Open Grid Alliance will also identify the needs and requirements for full operational deployment of the Open Grid on a global scale.
Mahdi expanded, “We see the Open Grid as essential to solving key challenges we currently face with full scale deployment of the Open Grid. And, we don’t stop here. Our ambition for the Grid extends to 2030 and beyond. We see the Open Grid Alliance as our breeding ground for discovery and verification of research and new technologies that support VMware’s 2030 vision for Equity, Sustainability and Trust.”
The opportunity at the edge is clear. And the need to evolve our current Internet to seize this opportunity is evident. The path forward is less clear and evident, however. It will be a long and winding journey. But if we can make progress together, the Internet’s future, and our future, is bright.