Too many cooks?
Organizations trying to come up with standardized approaches to edge computing may inadvertently be exacerbating complexity and sowing confusion. At last year's MEC Congress, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and a group called the OpenFog Consortium were the most prominent associations. This year the limelight on several occasions turned on CORD, Open Edge Computing and even Facebook's Telecom Infra Project, which looks increasingly active in the edge computing area. (See Edge Funds: Show Me the Money!)
While organizations insist they are working together harmoniously, and not stepping on one another's toes, the lack of consistent terminology mirrors the different and evolving visions they have. ETSI would clearly prefer its initiative to be called "edge computing," to reflect the broadening of its technology view, but is lumbered with the MEC acronym after originally christening it "mobile edge computing." Instead it has awkwardly substituted "multi-access" for "mobile." (See ETSI Drops 'Mobile' From MEC.)
Yet even the "edge" part is anachronistic to some. The OpenFog Consortium is a vehicle that IT giants including Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) are steering into the fray. In their "fog computing" vision, IT resources could be stored at any number of points along a network, and not just in the access part. A self-driving car could be a fog node, for instance, as could a central data center. For others, the term "distributed cloud" better sums up what these various efforts are trying to accomplish.
The mushrooming of groups certainly does not mean that ETSI is incompatible with OpenFog, say. But it will inevitably put more stakeholders around the negotiating table, forcing each group to maintain numerous relationships to avoid any risk of industry discord. Interoperability emerged as a pressing concern at this year's MEC World Congress. Even within ETSI, an overlap between the work of the MEC group and that of a separate NFV (network functions virtualization) initiative has yet to be fully addressed. (See Edge Computing Groups Wrestle With Interoperability.)
Despite his involvement in the Open Edge Computing initiative, Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT)'s senior vice president of business operations for group innovation expressed his frustration with this proliferation of groups during the Berlin conference. Addressing a panel that featured representatives from ONF, OpenFog and ETSI, Thomas Gerszberg, who also represents the Open Edge Computing initiative, said: "From the operator perspective the first question is how I can sell this great asset that is edge computing. So far you are not helping a lot because there are so many acronyms… It is natural that we ended up with many concepts and many competing solutions, because, if you get money for innovation, you need to promise that you will improve your position for this innovation."
Apparently keen to get moving, the German incumbent has now launched its own edge computing initiative called Low Latency Prototyping. Through an incubator program for startups known as hub:raum, which has been in place for several years, Deutsche Telekom has been inviting interest from companies in fields such as industrial robotics, virtual and augmented reality, drone steering, retail shop automation and autonomous driving. A kick-off meeting in Berlin is scheduled for late October. "If we talk about low-latency computing we need to manage performance end to end," said Gerszberg. "I believe it will come in Deutsche Telekom's network very soon."
In the meantime, the most active player in the edge computing market is not a telco but an Internet giant. "The thing that has momentum right now is Greengrass," says Heavy Reading's Brown, referring to the edge-computing program that Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) has launched.
Indeed, large commercial companies are already using the Greengrass service. In one example, a major mining organization has installed Greengrass gateways in semi-autonomous trucks so that it can process and respond to information about road conditions in remote locations. The idea is to reduce wear and tear on tires and thereby lower costs, says Satyen Yadav, the general manager of IoT services for AWS. "Greengrass is an extension of the cloud service and today it is quickly bringing services to different regions," he said during a presentation at the MEC World Congress. "Thanks to partners and ecosystem developers, we can build this quickly."
There seems little doubt that a distributed cloud architecture will be vital in future in a multitude of scenarios. The question is whether different stakeholders can work together to minimize the pain of this overhaul, and bring operators and application developers together at an early-enough stage. Telcos have already been squeezed by Internet companies in once-lucrative markets. They do not want to get pushed off the edge.
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading