Vapor IO Introduces Edge Data Centers Aimed At Helping Telecom Network Operators Deliver 5G Wireless Applications

Vapor IO will soon bring to market a version of its Vapor Chamber small-footprint server rack geared for telecom service providers preparing to introduce 5G networks to power state-of-the-art mobile applications, founder and CEO Cole Crawford told CRN on Tuesday.

Vapor Edge for Telecom is a micro data center that network operators can install right next to cellular base stations and interface with telecom equipment, delivering the low-latencies that next-generation applications running on high-bandwidth networks will soon demand, Crawford said.

Vapor IO, based in Austin, Tex., emerged from stealth in 2015 with a combination of server racks and open software designed to situate infrastructure on the network's edge — close to users in dense urban environments.

[Related: Vapor IO Partners With Bloom Energy To Deliver Carbon-Neutral Computing Facilities]

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Crawford, who was one of the founding developers of the OpenStack cloud operating system, believes the next evolution of the cloud involves edge computing, a paradigm demanding infrastructure that doesn't can forgo industrial-grade power supplies and acres of real estate.

Vapor Edge for Telecom delivers such capabilities to an industry in the process of divesting from the data center business, but still needing to leverage substantial cloud computing resources. And collocating virtualized servers with radio equipment creates new business opportunities for cell tower owners and operators, allowing novel partnerships with hyper-scale cloud providers and Internet services vendors, he said.

Regardless of how much telcos ramp the bandwidth of their radio networks, their customers must still contend with complex blends of copper-based and fiber-optic networks that can vary wildly in latency.

"The speed of light being what it is, today the path back to the data center is still very much geographically driven," Crawford told CRN.

As those providers compete to offer technologies like software-defined networking and network functions virtualization, they need to solve the latency challenge.

Without significantly reducing network latency, wireless networks won't be capable of facilitating new use cases like virtual and augmented reality applications, Crawford said.

Users of virtual reality, for example, start feeling sick when latencies exceed 20 milliseconds. Self-driving cars, autonomous drones, video delivery networks, all are going to need dispersed infrastructure close to the physical devices.

Those technologies will be part of a global boom in data generation, with 40 zettabytes expected by 2020. Providers aren't going to be able to build enough data centers in their current form factor to accommodate that kind of traffic.

Instead of cloud operators having dozens of availability zones, they might need thousands, he said.

"Gluing the logical data center together from physically disparate resources is something we believe firmly will be a requirement," Crawford told CRN.

Crawford believes that recognition is behind a just-emerging trend in the industry to redirect resources from laying fiber to developing higher-bandwidth wireless communications.

And "in this new world, when you've got physical assets 40 to 50 miles from the nearest person to triage that data center, it's important for the physical environment to sense itself and self-heal and optimize the application," Crawford said.

That's the design philosophy behind Vapor's self-contained enclosures housing commodity hardware and running custom software for remote management and intelligent workload placement.

The telecom product should see deployments start in the second quarter of this year, he said.