Even as the tech industry pushes applications relentlessly into the cloud, some device functions are still best performed locally, which is why cloud giant Amazon introduced Greengrass at its AWS re:Invent conference last week. (See AWS Greengrass Bridges Cloud & Local Computing.)
Greengrass brings the Amazon Web Services Inc. Lambda operating environment to connected hardware for local application execution. In brief, that means that developers can code functions the same way they would with AWS in the cloud, but then execute those functions with local computing power and via communication over local networks. (See Amazon Takes Cloud on the Road.)
At launch time, AWS only announced a few partners currently working with Greengrass, most of which are semiconductor manufacturers. However, Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) was a notable hardware exception on the partner list. The broadband customer premises equipment (CPE) manufacturer has been working with AWS to incorporate Greengrass into its gateways for most of 2016, and it has big plans for the integration going forward.
"On the broadband gateway side of things ... we've been long waiting for application execution environments that can present themselves as opportunities for us and for our network service providers," says Technicolor Senior Vice President Gary Gutknecht.
He adds, "We were super-excited when we were approached by AWS ... [because] finally we have an application execution environment that brings with it a fully understood toolset and a full community of developers that we can leverage for it."
There are numerous use cases for Greengrass on a broadband gateway. Technicolor, for example has developed a WiFi extender solution that is designed to give service providers a way to enable local optimization of WiFi connections. With Greengrass installed, a gateway and local extenders can orchestrate connectivity so that devices within a home network are automatically routed to the right access point depending on location and network conditions. The same type of local orchestration can be achieved without Greengrass by using various web services, but the AWS environment makes those functions easier to code and easier to connect with other applications also developed within the AWS operating system.
As another use case example, Technicolor also showed off a voice-driven diagnostic service at the re:Invent conference. The diagnostic application lets customers use voice commands to troubleshoot home networking issues locally and even to open up a second SSID on the network for guest Internet access.
One of the big advantages to Greengrass is the existence of well established application and developer ecosystems. Those ecosystems have long been missing in the cable broadband world, which has tried in the past to standardize on application environments like the Java-based OSGi (Open Service Gateway Initiative) framework, but with little success. "Good luck going out on the street and finding an OSGi developer," Gutknecht jokes.
Gutknecht believes the introduction of Greengrass could set off a chain reaction.
"We believe that we're going to see that watershed effect, or that domino effect," says Gutknecht, adding that, "I think the network service providers have been looking for application environments and have been looking for ways to more modularly upgrade code and so forth to improve time to market, service velocity and all those kinds of things."
It doesn't hurt that a lot of service providers also have existing relationships with AWS. In years past, broadband operators might have preferred to leave Amazon out of their networks, but they've now largely made their peace with the public cloud provider. Extending AWS to the home gateway is simply a logical next step.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading