MEC (Mobile Edge Computing)

Will ETSI Lose Its Edge as Fog Rolls In?

The edge gets foggier
With a collaboration agreement in the works, ETSI MEC and OpenFog are still at the engagement-party phase of their relationship, smiling coquettishly for the cameras and dreaming of a wonderful honeymoon. But their tie-up undoubtedly faces uncertainties, given their markedly different agendas and views about distributed network architecture (as the table below shows).

Table 1: MEC Vs OpenFog, According to OpenFog

MEC OpenFog
Focus on RAN [radio access network] cellular network access Access node/network connection agnostic, fully supporting cellular, unlicensed radio, wireline and optical interconnects
Focus on the RAN edge, adds computing in a single layer of nodes in the RAN Horizontal architecture for distributed computing, storage and networking services across cloud-to-thing continuum
Focus on mobile service providers, uses mobile carrier models Physical and logical hierarchy of fog nodes with north-south, east-west and diagonal connectivity: covers edge but also access and things in IoT intermediate layers between edge and cloud
MEC focuses on moving applications into the RAN, which requires many of the functions the OpenFog RA [reference architecuture] provides (e.g., distributing software/apps to edge nodes, orchestrating resources to support applications, managing the lifecycle of the software/apps distributed to the edge, and securing these distributed systems) Multi-tenant service models, virtualization, orchestration, management, uses enterprise and web-scale models
MEC can right-size the OpenFog RA to work inside RANs and for its newly expanded multi-access scope to support the fog-related functions MEC requires OpenFog is an SIG [special interest group] that partners with multiple SDOs [standards development organizations] to cover fog computing standardization needs across multiple disciplines, can leverage MEC technologies and APIs [application programming interfaces]
Source: OpenFog.

Sprecher is at pains to emphasize that ETSI is a specifications group, while OpenFog and Open Edge Computing are not. The idea is that ETSI takes into account those groups' ideas and needs when designing its specs.

But this could move the ETSI group a long way outside its comfort zone.

Addressing "multi-access" requirements will be challenging enough. ETSI concedes that its roots and expertise are in the mobile industry, and that fixed-line technologies represent unfamiliar terrain. At least this name change will appeal to both OpenFog and Open Edge Computing, and it might attract operators such as Deutsche Telekom into the fold. (See ETSI Gets Edgy About Mobile.)

For OpenFog, though, "edge" is still just one part of the bigger story, though not quite as narrow a focus as "mobile." Fog computing is supposed to allow processing and analytics to be done at any point in the network between the core and the very limits of the network edge, depending on requirements. "While MEC is focused on the RAN [radio access network], fog includes access, edge, and the devices themselves," says Steve Vandris, a board member for the OpenFog Consortium. "It distributes computation across all these nodes."

Networks based on fog-computing principles are typically thought of as a "distributed cloud." As Vandris describes it, the entire network essentially becomes a data center, with the attendant capabilities.

This obviously goes several steps further than the ETSI MEC group was originally planning. Because resources in a fog network will need allocating more dynamically, an "orchestrator" will have to understand the capabilities of individual "fog nodes" and then decide where to place computation, according to Vandris. Fog players will have to ensure that applications can run in the cloud or at a variety of edge locations without any software tinkering, he says.

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Even so, OpenFog is keen to make use of the application programming interfaces (APIs) that ETSI MEC is developing. "Hopefully we'll be able to have architecture that can go from mobile to fixed and all the way back into the cloud with consistent APIs," says Vandris. "We'll be working technically at the API level with MEC to define all those things."

Indeed, in certain respects, the alliance makes good sense. It could provide a spur to the Internet of Things, which both ETSI and OpenFog regard as one of the main use cases for a more distributed network architecture. "From the MEC perspective, OpenFog is an application, while from OpenFog's perspective MEC is about infrastructure," says Gabriel Brown, a senior analyst with the Heavy Reading market research business. "If OpenFog can write to MEC's APIs, it can carry on developing its own system architecture but make use of the MEC environment."

The challenge for the two groups will be to put these ideas into practice effectively, while ensuring that different views about edge computing do not cause any rupture.

Next page: In the hot seat or at the edge

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