February 26, 2019
BARCELONA -- MWC19 -- AT&T and Microsoft Azure are teaming up on a proof of concept to test network edge compute capabilities on AT&T's 5G network.
Network edge compute (NEC) is the newest addition to AT&T's edge compute strategy, which also includes AT&T Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC). NEC will "sit in metro areas and MEC sits at the premise location," Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer for AT&T Business, explained at AT&T's media roundtable today.
"There is a shift as we launch our early instantiations of 5G services -- that will begin in the enterprise and expand into the consumer marketplace... moving compute closer to the edge to empower new experiences," said Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO for AT&T Business. So far, AT&T has deployed mobile 5G in 12 cities, and will announce nine more mobile 5G cities later this year.
By delivering Microsoft Azure cloud services closer to the edge, AT&T aims to reduce latency and improve user experience for enterprise sites. In a statement issued today, the operator said this move will be important in supporting "the low-latency cloud and IoT solutions used by retail, healthcare, public safety, manufacturing and entertainment."
"Our two companies are working together to achieve the low-latency connectivity needed for the explosion of devices and immense amount of data being created by computing at the edge," Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking for Microsoft, said in the release.
AT&T plans to develop new NEC use cases for enterprise and public safety organizations at the AT&T Foundry in Plano, Texas. The Plano-based Foundry teamed with cohorts at Israel's AT&T Foundry to identify Israeli startup Vorpal Ltd. as a collaborator for testing AT&T's NEC services.
As there are some restricted locations where it's unsafe or undesirable to fly drones -- around aircrafts and airports, for example -- Vorpal has deployed sensors to monitor the location of drones and alert authorities if they're flying in restricted areas.
"Before deploying this NEC instance, Vorpal had to deploy compute associated with each of these sensors," Katibeh said. "It wasn't cost-effective and the big cloud was too far away from a latency perspective so they couldn't manage the solution in real-time. This gives them a more cost-effective way to use Azure inside of our network."
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Many fits for MEC
Rush University Medical Center, AT&T Stadium and Samsung Semiconductors are among the organizations deploying MEC, but Katibeh said it can be used in any industry.
"With MEC, customers can use cellular connectivity at their business location and at the application layer to decide which traffic goes back to the big cloud and which traffic is peeled off and kept within their business environment," added Katibeh. "It's important because for regulatory reasons, intellectual property reasons or for low-latency applications, businesses might want to keep their data local."
Edge computing will increasingly change enterprises' infrastructure by "shifting information processing from highly centralized to a mix of centralized and distributed," according to a Gartner report issued last August. "The number of locations where enterprise information processing will take place will grow rapidly, creating both business opportunities and tremendous challenges and risks."
At the end of the day, edge computing services provide enterprises with the opportunity to "have more choice on where they need to get their work done -- the developer can decide which portion of workloads to deploy where," added Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO for AT&T.
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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