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Vapor IO Builds Wee Data Centers

Mitch Wagner

Data centers have been getting bigger and bigger for decades. But they need to get small to meet the needs of next-generation network applications. Startup Vapor IO is looking to fill the emerging needs for miniaturized data centers.

The most advanced data centers are massive structures the size of factory complexes, sometimes located in remote locations like Greenland and Iowa (just kidding, Iowa pals!), able to suck up oceans of electricity to generate staggering amounts of computing power.

The Vapor Edge data center would be lost inside those massive structures. Announced Wednesday by startup Vapor IO, Vapor Edge is a fully functional, self-contained data center in a cylinder nine feet wide by nine feet tall, and it can be placed anywhere -- in a parking lot, underneath a cell tower, or inside a skyscraper -- where compute power is needed close to the application.

Top Design
The Vapor Edge can be used indoors or out.
The Vapor Edge can be used indoors or out.

"The cloud as we know it is changing," said Cole Crawford, Vapor IO's CEO and co-founder, in a statement. "For the last decade, it's been dominated by large, centralized data centers. But there is an emerging class of applications -- including IoT, virtual and augmented reality, and mobile apps -- where centralized data centers simply won't work because compute, storage, and network capacity need to be near the application or device. With Vapor Edge, we're paving the way for a truly decentralized data center and enabling edge cloud computing."

The hardware component of Vapor Edge is the Vapor Chamber, comprising racks and other hardware systems, but not compute, storage or networking. Vapor IO also provides management software to allow the chambers to be managed remotely.

Vapor Edge is needed because a new generation of apps requires fast access to compute and data. Existing data center architectures provide round-trip times of 100-200 milliseconds, but for edge computing applications the round-trip time needs to be under five milliseconds. These applications include self-driving cars, augmented reality and the Internet of things, Crawford tells Light Reading.

Getting Small
Data centers aren't the only things that can be miniaturized.
Data centers aren't the only things that can be miniaturized.

Even some present-day applications could benefit from shorter round-trip times. The Facebook mobile app takes four seconds to load after opening, as it calls back to collect the data needed to build a user's wall, Crawford said. That need for speed is behind the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP) to develop open source infrastructure for telecoms. (See Facebook: TIP Will Open Telecom Hardware.)

To get the data and compute closer to the application, the data center often needs to be located out in the elements, and that's where the Vapor Chamber comes in. "We built the Vapor Center to exist in those harsh conditions," Crawford said.

The Vapor Edge integrates with popular cloud platforms and technologies, including Amazon Web Services Inc. and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Azure, OpenStack , VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), vSphere, Mesosphere DC/OS and Kubernetes.

Vapor Edge is available immediately, for deployment in 2017.

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Centrepointe, a data center company in the Czech Republic, plans to deploy Vapor Edge in a 200 megawatt data center, serving Prague, Frankfurt and surrounding areas.

Vapor IO was founded last year and has raised just under $5 million in a Series A round of funding. A Series B round of funding is coming soon, Crawford says. The company's founders include alumni of Microsoft and NASA, while Crawford was founding executive director of the Open Compute Project and co-founder of OpenStack.

The need to push compute out to the edge is driving AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and other service providers to convert their central offices into data centers, using open technology called Central Office Re-architected as Data Center (CORD). (See AT&T to Show Off Next-Gen Central Office.)

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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