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Fog Networking/Computing

Edging Closer: ETSI & OpenFog Team on Edge Computing APIs

BERLIN -- MEC Congress 2017 -- With broad industry interest growing in the potential benefits of distributed computing capabilities, two of the leading industry bodies developing specifications in this niche sector have agreed to cooperate on the development of key APIs.

ETSI's Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) Industry Specification Group (ISG) and the OpenFog Consortium have linked pinkies and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will result in cooperation between the two groups, with an initial focus on the APIs that will connect computing assets at the edge of the wide area network to the applications that need to use those distributed resources.

As these are industry groups with lots of members and politics and stuff, there's a whole scree of explanation about how this is going to make the world a better place etc. (See ETSI, OpenFog Consortium Team Up.)

But why should anyone give a fig?

Well, in terms of the general edge computing/distributed cloud topic, there's a school of thought that suggests that 5G, IoT, real-time 8K video, autonomous vehicles and next-generation services we haven't thought of yet will be useless unless cloud computing assets are distributed, rather than centralized. Those distributed assets will be necessary to enable the kind of very low latency that centralized data centers cannot provide, as well as provide other useful attributes (reducing backhaul traffic, improving availability, and so on). (See Why the Cloud Will Be Distributed and The Future Is Foggy – HR Report.)

And what do these two groups offer up by collaborating? (Editor's note: Finally! They were talking about it a full year ago.)

Well, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) MEC group has already developed and released a set of APIs related to application enablement and management, radio access network information, location and so on. That's actually important stuff if applications are to be able to make use of the computing assets at the edge of the wide area network.

So now OpenFog is going to collaborate on those API specifications so that both groups are going out into the industry with the same set of APIs. That makes sense, right?

And they're not just talking to an empty room: The ETSI MEC group has some major operator and vendor names in its membership list -- AT&T, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, NTT, Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone and many more; OpenFog, meanwhile, boasts founder members ARM, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and Princeton University and about 50 other companies, including NEC and ZTE in its ranks.

So, a lot of firepower, but what's key beyond the two organizations and their members is the developer community: Distributed computing will be dormant without the applications that run on them and developers don't want to spend time creating applications for a closed environment, or to develop multiple versions of the same applications for different environments. Now both groups can court the developer community with the same, unified set of APIs. (Whether the developers will be interested is another matter, but the opportunities at least go beyond just communications services and into IoT and the digital services realm for all the major verticals.)

OpenFog isn't the only organization that's keen on the ETSI group's work: Here today at the MEC Congress in Berlin the GSM Association (GSMA) , Small Cell Forum Ltd. , Open Edge Computing (OEC) initiative and OpenStack all voiced support for the ongoing developments within ETSI, though without any formal agreement announcements.

There's also a real sense here in Berlin that network operators are starting to take concrete steps towards edge computing deployments -- within the space of just 90 minutes I heard representatives from Telefónica and Tele2 AB (Nasdaq: TLTO) talk about their early initiatives, while Orange (NYSE: FTE) is moving closer to an edge computing solution to its CDN challenges, and I expect to hear many more examples during the next few days.

Unity on important issues such as API specifications can only help those and other operators to feel confident about moving forwards with their plans.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Group Editor, Light Reading

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